Newsom launches rescue mission for rejected Prop 1 ballots

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SACRAMENTO, California — Gov. Gavin Newsom is embarking on a last-minute scramble to correct rejected ballots as his prized $6.4 billion mental health and housing bond maintains a razor-thin lead.

The governor’s federal PAC, Campaign for Democracy, sent an urgent volunteer request to supporters Thursday night, asking them to help reach out to Democrats who have had their ballots rejected — for reasons like forgetting to include a signature — in an effort to get their ballots counted.

“This ballot initiative is SO CLOSE that your commitment to volunteer could mean the difference between people getting off the streets and into the treatment they need... or not,” the governor’s email read. “Truly. It is that close.”

The most recent update showed Proposition 1 with 50.2 percent of the vote, leading by about 21,000 votes with a half-million ballots left to be counted statewide. The uncertainty is so great that Newsom on Friday postponed his annual State of the State address, originally scheduled for Monday.

Newsom’s post-election ballot mobilization is a remarkable ploy for a statewide effort and reflects the stakes for a governor who has thrown his political heft and warchest behind the measure. Proposition 1 is a key pillar of the governor’s wider plan to combat homelessness — regarded as a top concern among California voters — and its failure would be a major blow to his political and policy agenda.

“It’s highly unusual for a statewide measure,” said Steven Maviglio, a Sacramento-based Democratic consultant who has worked on statewide campaigns. “I’ve never heard of that before.”

Anthony York, a spokesperson for the campaign, said proponents are leaving “nothing to chance.”

“Race is close,” he said in a text message, adding that the final result could come Friday as the campaign awaits big vote drops from key counties.

Newsom faced little opposition throughout the campaign, and the “no” side conceded this week. But as votes continue to come in, and the margin remains tight, it’s clear the governor is fearful of a loss.

“It certainly signals desperation,” said Dave Fratello, a former political consultant who volunteered with the campaign to defeat the measure. “I don't know if it's warranted, because it seems like Prop 1 is going to win by a comfortable enough margin.”

California law does allow incorrect or missing signatures to be counted, or “cured,” after a voter submits their ballot, but it’s not typical for campaigns to go door-to-door correcting rejected ballots unless the margins are very close. Even then, it’s more commonly seen in local or regional races.

Ballot initiative veteran Chris Lehane said Newsom was in a rare situation: staring down a close fight and having the financial might to fight past Election Day.

“It’s unusual to have a ballot measure this close,” said Lehane, who led a 2012 campaign that was tight enough that supporters sought a recount, “and it’s unusual to have the means to do a cure statewide.”

Proposition 1 would change the Mental Health Services Act, a 2004 tax on incomes over a million dollars that currently generates around $4 billion annually, imposing new requirements on how counties report and spend the funds on mental health programs. The measure also includes a $6.4 billion bond that supporters say would build 11,000 addiction and mental health treatment beds and supportive housing for veterans.

Jeremy B. White contributed to this report.