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A Republican-backed referendum to overthrow California's newly drawn Senate districts qualified Friday for the November statewide ballot.

The secretary of state's office announced that 511,457 of the 711,307 referendum signatures submitted by the group were those of registered voters, more than the 504,760 needed to qualify.

Because legislative primary elections will be held before November ballots are cast, however, the Supreme Court ruled last month that the contested Senate districts will be used in this year's balloting.

Twenty of the Senate's 40 districts are up for grabs this year in districts drawn by an independent citizens commission consisting of five Democrats, five Republicans and four independent or minor-party voters.

Republican leaders contend that the new districts give Democrats a good chance of capturing the two seats necessary to gain a two-thirds supermajority, the margin needed to approve tax or fee increases in that house.

Political analysts of both parties say the lines are not likely to result in a two-thirds majority in the Assembly, so Republicans conceivably could block tax increases there and keep them from reaching the governor's desk.

Nonetheless, a Democratic supermajority in the upper house would significantly increase that party's leverage in the Legislature.

The referendum drive by a group calling itself Fairness and Accountability in Redistricting (FAIR) raised about $2.2 million for the drive, much of it from the California Republican Party or from current or former GOP state senators, records show.

Dave Gilliard, a Republican political strategist who led the referendum drive, contends that the new state Senate boundary lines dilute Latino voting clout in parts of the state and violate criteria established by voters in a 2008 ballot measure that created the redistricting commission.

In pushing to kill the new districts at the ballot box, Gilliard's group hoped to force the state Supreme Court to appoint special masters to draw Senate district lines for use in the 2014 legislative elections.

The strategy conceivably could backfire if the high court drew lines that jeopardized even more GOP seats in the Senate. Gilliard dismissed that possibility Friday.

"I don't think they could be much worse," Gilliard said of the commission-drawn lines.

California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro declined to say Friday whether the party will finance a November campaign.

"What we're going to do is look at our resources, look at the issues in front of us, like the spending cap, and over the next sixth months, we are going to decide on exactly how far we should push each individual thing we're facing," he said.

Supporting candidates and initiatives that are perceived as popular with voters, such as a proposed spending cap, will be the top priorities, Del Beccaro said.

"The referendum may or may not be tied into that effort," he said.

* Bee staff writer Torey Van Oot contributed to this report.


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