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A Republican group backing a referendum challenging newly drawn state Senate districts believe they have inched closer to qualifying just days before the California Supreme Court will hear arguments over whether it should intervene.

As of this afternoon, a sampling of the 709,000 signatures collected by Fairness and Accountability in Redistricting projects that 490,357 are valid, according to the Secretary of State's website. That's roughly 10,000 more than required to launch a full count of verified signatures and 14,000 shy of the threshold to qualify the referendum once the verified signatures are tallied. The referendum needs 504,760 verified signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

The latest count doesn't include sample results from 13 counties that still need to report their numbers to the Secretary of State's office by Tuesday.

"We will pass the 100 percent (sample) mark by Tuesday," GOP political consultant and FAIR spokesman Dave Gilliard said this afternoon.

FAIR's lawyers will argue that the sample proves the measure will qualify and that the court should suspend the redrawn Senate district boundaries until voters can weigh in 11 months from now.

But that assessment was strongly disputed by Democratic consultant Jason Kinney, who said the relatively low validity rate of the signatures means the measure "is likely to fail."

FAIR says the new maps unjustly dilute Latino voters' influence and break rules established in the 2008 ballot measure that created the commission itself. Commission officials have defended the maps and argued that the court shouldn't intervene because it is unlikely the referendum could gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

The Supreme Court has said it will make a decision by the end of this month, in time for the June primary and the November general elections. Half of the state's Senate's 40 seats are in play this year.

Editor's Note: This post has been updated to add comments from Jason Kinney. Updated 5:45 p.m. Jan. 6, 2012.


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