SACRAMENTO - It could be a blow to the efforts of Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork (STOP) to force a public vote on Sacramento's arena plans.

The4000, a political group formed to counter STOP's efforts, is now claiming that several of the petitions the group used are invalid.

It's not just that group's claims though: the Sacramento City Clerk's Office and the Sacramento County Registrar said different versions were submitted.

In fact, as petitions are counted, Registrar Jill Levine said different versions are being separated.

STOP admits to the variances, but claims the differences are minor.

Why is this important? Because it could invalidate signatures on the petitions that don't match the original one filed with the City Clerk.

Election code isprecise when it comes to petition language and copies that are circulated.

In a letter to the city and county of Sacramento, Sean Welch, an attorney for The4000, pointed out several differences and omissions between the petitions.

"It is the ministerial duty of elections officials to review each and every section of the petition to determine that the legal requirements of the Elections Code are met in each instance," Welch wrote. "If they are not, the election official is duty bound to reject the petition."

Welch went on to ask that the petitions were reviewed, separated by version, and rejected if non-compliant.

PDF: Welch's letter

In a different letter, dated Dec. 9, 2013, an attorney for STOP admitted to "slightly different versions".

"The differences in the versions of the petition are both inadvertent and extremely minor printing errors," attorney Bradley Hertz wrote. "These minor printing errors could not, as a realistic and practical matter, have affected the integrity of the electoral process."

But The4000 claims some of the differences are major.

"Some of them are minor, but some are pretty significant," said Chris Lehane, a leader of the political group. "When you put on the front of your document that the Title and Summary is on the next page, and you turn the page and there's no Title and Summary, that's a pretty substantive omission. It's problematic."

Either way, the issue could be fodder for a lawsuit.

Although a city spokeswoman didn't return calls for comment, the city of Sacramento could filea suit challenging the petitions if STOP is successful in getting the initiative on the ballot.

Steve Churchwell, a prominent Sacramento election lawyer, said if the issue gets to court, ajudge will likely give STOP extreme leniency.

"The court is bound to jealously guard the process," he said. "It starts in favor of the proponents. They have it weighted on their side."

However, if the differences are large enough, it could be enough to invalidate signatures on certain petitions.

"Are the discrepancies between the petitions enough to frustrate the purpose of the law? Which is to give the voters enough information to decide, 'Should I sign this, or should I not sign it?'" Churchwell said.

It couldboil down to is which stack of petitions are deemed valid.

"The court could say, 'I'm invalidating those, but I'm letting the other versions go forward.' Will they have enough valid signatures on those petitions, those approved stacks, to qualify? That's the big question," Churchwell said.

STOP turned in a total of 35,248 signatures. There were 15,226 withdrawal formsturned in, signed by those who originally signed the STOP petition but felt misled.

Every signature, from both the petitions and the withdrawals, needs to be verified.

As of Jan. 6, the county registrar had counted 1,737 signatures and 1,206 were valid.

Roughly 22,000 are needed for STOP's initiative to qualify on the June ballot.

By Nick Monacelli,

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