Ballot Law Update: Four ballot law related bills proposed in three states
| Initiative law|
Ballot access rulings
Recent court cases
Ballot title challenges
By Josh Altic
- The Ballot Law Update is released on the last Wednesday of each month.
In 2014 legislative sessions so far, there are 85 pending laws concerning ballot measures, of which 81 were carried over from 2013 and 4 were proposed this year. As of yet, none are defeated or enacted, although Arizona House Bill 2196 is now just awaiting the signature of Gov. Jan Brewer (R), as it has been approved in the legislature.
The January edition of the Ballot Law Update reported that on October 3, 2013, Oregon legislators, in a 17-12 vote, approved Senate Bill 863, which prohibits Oregon counties, except Jackson County, from regulating or banning genetically modified organisms. SB 863 claimed an emergency status in order to preclude efforts to ban GMOs in Benton and Lane counties.
The authors of SB 863 intended Jackson County's Measure 15-119, which seeks the prohibition of GMO cultivation in Jackson County, to be the last of its kind. The bill, however, is being ignored by the group GMO-Free Josephine County, which has gone ahead with its initiative, Measure 17-58, seeking to ban GMOs, even though the initiative flies directly in the face of the new state law. Initiative backers are aware that they are inviting a court battle by defying state law makers. As attorneys on both sides will be debating a state law that restricts the use of the local initiative process in Oregon concerning a highly contentious issue, a judge may be required to make a ruling that extends beyond the issue of genetic engineering to ballot initiatives and local self-governance.
A press release from GMO-Free Josephine County stated the following with regard to SB 863 and Measure 17-58:
- "GMO-Free Josephine County contends that proceeding with this ballot measure despite possible state preemption (SB 863) is a win-win scenario. Even if the state bill prevails, this ballot initiative can serve as an opportunity for the residents of Josephine County to assert their rights to self-governance, free from undue outside corporate influence and state or federal preemption of critical agricultural matters that affect our local food, farms and future."
Arizona voters may see ballot questions repeating every eight years under new state law:
Arizona SCR 1003, which would require voter re-approval every eight years for any ballot measure that spends or collects public dollars, was introduced on January 27, 2014, and was referred to the Senate Rules Committee on February 18, 2014. SCR 1003 was sponsored by the following Republican legislators:
- Senator Chester Crandell (R-6)
- Senator Kelli Ward (R-5)
- Representative Adam Kwasman (R-11)
- Senator Mesnard (R-17)
- Representative Warren Petersen (R-12)
- Representative Justin Pierce (D-25)
- Senator Carl Seel (R-20)
Sen. Crandell argued that many things that voters have approved have been ineffectual or have outlived their purpose. Crandell also noted that the Arizona Constitution prevents the legislature from altering or repealing voter approved laws, making referral back to the ballot the only way to revise them. A Sierra Club lobbyist, Sandy Bahr, expressed disapproval of SCR 1003, saying that it would force automatic and unnecessary ballot measures on issues that had already been put to rest by decisive voter decisions. If this resolution is approved in the legislature, the proposed constitutional changes would appear as a measure on the November 4, 2014, election ballot and, if approved by voters, would likely be subject to voter re-approval in eight years under its own provisions.
Arizona legislature regrets 2013 election reform:
Arizona HB 2196, which is very close to enactment, would repeal 2013 Arizona House Bill 2305, containing multiple election and ballot law reform provisions. HB 2196 was introduced on January 22, 2014, by its sponsor, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth (D-12). This repeal of 2013 election reform has already been approved in the Arizona House and Senate and was submitted to Gov. Jan Brewer (R) for a signature on February 24, 2014.
HB 2196 election results in the legislature:
|HB 2196 Senate Vote|
|HB 2196 House Vote|
Republican lawmakers seek two-thirds majority requirement for referred constitutional amendments in Democrat-dominated legislature:
New Mexico SJR 17 would require a two-thirds majority approval of any proposed constitutional amendment in both the Senate and House before the amendment is referred to the voters for ratification. This bill was introduced by Sen. John Ryan (R-10) on January 29, 2014, was approved in the Senate Rules Committee and is in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Currently a simple majority - 50% plus 1 vote - is sufficient to send a constitutional amendment to the ballot for a voter decision. This bill would require greater agreement and nonpartisan cooperation in the Democrat-controlled legislature to put an amendment on the ballot. As of 2014, 25 of the 42 New Mexico senators are Democrats, amounting to a 59 percent majority, but not a 2/3rds supermajority vote. 37 of 70 representatives are Democrats, which is only a 53 percent majority. If this bill is approved, it will likely decrease the number of constitutional amendment measures presented to voters.
Recall may become available to voters following alleged election law violation scandal:
Utah HJR 4 would put a question on the ballot about whether Utah voters should have the power to recall state officials. House Joint Resolution 4 was introduced by Rep. Gage Froerer (R-8) and was referred to House committee, where it was given a favorable recommendation by six of the nine committee members. The amendment, if approved by voters, would make the state official positions of Governor, State Auditor, State Treasurer and Attorney General vulnerable to a recall petition. The rather strict requirements of the proposed amendment would make majority approval of a recall question in 26 of the state's 29 districts mandatory before an official could be removed from office. This bill is in part a response to the alleged election and campaign finance law violations committed by Attorney General John Swallow. Froerer said, "If someone has violated the public trust then the public should have a say in the matter."
District Judge says that the individually insignificant errors on Sacramento STOP petitions add up to a "fatal flaw":
The group Sacramento Taxpayer's Opposed to Pork (STOP) turned in 35,247 signatures to qualify its initiative requiring voter approval of the city subsidizing the proposed Kings arena project and any other sports arenas. Of these, 22,498 were found to be valid. Only 22,165 were required to qualify the initiative for the ballot. City Clerk Shirley Concolino, however, announced on January 24, 2014, that the petitions for the initiative measure were rife with legal errors and violations of city elections code, making the STOP initiative ineligible for the June ballot. She announced that, among other problems, the petitions failed to contain key legal language and that the differences in the wording of the nine variations of the petitions were unacceptable. Concolino said, “I’ve never seen a petition with as many flaws as this one."
In a news release, the STOP group announced that it was "disappointed but not tremendously surprised" by the decision and pointed out that the city was the main proponent of the Kings Arena deal and that city officials disapproved of the initiative. The statement also said, “This is a very dark day for democracy in Sacramento. The city clerk is trying to use a small number of minor and insignificant printing errors in the initiative petition to disenfranchise Sacramento voters.”
On January 29, 2014, STOP, along with Voters for a Fair Arena Deal, sued the city, arguing that their initiative had "substantial compliance" with the election laws and that the courts should overturn the city clerk's ruling against the initiative. Jim Cathcart, STOP co-founder, said, “The city should not stand in the way of democracy." Advocates of the arena, including the 4000, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D) and the Sacramento Kings, are opposed to the STOP initiative. Supporters filed to support the city in its defense of Clerk Concolino's decision to reject the STOP petitions so that they could also offer legal arguments against the initiative. Brad Hertz, attorney for STOP and Voters for a Fair Arena Deal, made this argument in a filed legal brief, arguing, "The Court should not take the drastic step of preventing the voters from voting on the measure, but instead should defer this question until after an election is conducted on the measure."
On February 21, 2014, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley, while reserving his final ruling, stated that the petitions were indeed very flawed and that, although each individual error was not serious, the errors taken together add up to a "fatal flaw." Frawley said, “These petitions are defective in a multitude of ways." Frawley's final ruling, as well as potential appellate court decisions, could yield precedents that sharply affect the power of initiative with regard to strict compliance with technical election laws.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures website, no legislation regarding ballot measure law has been approved in any state so far in 2014. Arizona House Bill 2196, however, is now just awaiting the signature of Gov. Jan Brewer (R), as it has been approved in the legislature. This section will be updated as the year progresses.
- NCSLnet, "Initiative & Referendum Legislation," accessed February 28, 2014
- The Oregonian, "GMO bill clears Oregon Senate (2013 special session)," October 2, 2013
- GMO-Free Josephine County website, Press Release," accessed February 21, 2014
- Ahwatukee Foothills News, "Law would force voters to reapprove measures again and again," February 19, 2014
- Arizona Legislature website, SCR 1003," accessed February 26, 2014
- Payson Roundup, "Election Reform Brouhaha: Lawmakers repeal law to thwart initiative," February 18, 2014 (dead link)
- Openstates.org, Arizona HB 2196," accessed February 26, 2014
- Senate Reporter, "IN SESSION: Proposal would require higher standards for constitutional amendments," January 30, 2014
- The Standard Examiner, "Weber lawmaker: Amend Utah Constitution to allow top officials' recall elections," January 17, 2014
- SB Nation, "STOP has enough signatures, but here's what's next," January 17, 2014
- The Sacramento Bee, "Clerk rejects petitions for arena vote," January 24, 2014
- Merced Sun Star, "Kings arena subsidy foes sue city to get measure back on ballot," January 29, 2014
- Sacramento Business Journal, "The4000, Steinberg, and Kings all want say in arena case," February 3, 2014
- KCRA.com, "STOP files latest argument in arena petition lawsuit," February 25, 2014
- The Sacramento Bee, "Judge’s comments suggest he will keep arena measure off Sacramento ballot," February 21, 2014