Ballot Law Update: As legislative sessions end, court actions take spotlight
| Initiative law|
Ballot access rulings
Recent court cases
Ballot title challenges
By Eric Veram
Since the beginning of the year, we have tracked 53 proposed laws in 19 states affecting the initiative and referendum process. The Ballot Law Update is released on the last Wednesday of each month. Stay tuned to the Tuesday Count for weekly ballot law news.
U.S. Supreme Court may weigh in on Oklahoma "Personhood" Amendment: Following an unfavorable Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling that removed the proposed amendment from the ballot, Personhood USA announced that it is attempting to take the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court. The original lawsuit was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights which alleged that the amendment was unconstitutional and should not appear before voters. The state supreme court delivered the ruling as supporters were still gathering signatures.
Arkansas legislature orders study on initiative process: Following the disqualification of thousands of signatures for proposed ballot initiatives, the Arkansas House and Senate committees on state agencies and government affairs voted for a study on the laws and procedures related to the initiative process. Reportedly, a number of complaints were raised by critics claiming that there are no repercussions for political campaigns that submit high numbers of invalid petition signatures. According to some legislators, one solution may be to prohibit campaigns from paying signature gatherers. According to the Associated Press, over two-thirds of the names submitted for some of the proposals were thrown out as invalid.
Minnesota Supreme Court rejects challenge to Voter ID Amendment: On Tuesday, July 31, the Minnesota Supreme Court heard arguments in two separate lawsuits regarding changes made to the titles of two ballot measures by Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. Both lawsuits accuse Ritchie of using his office to oppose amendments passed on to the ballot by the state legislature. Both measures, the Same-Sex Marriage Amendment and the Voter Identification Amendment, are primarily supported by Republican lawmakers.
On Monday, August 27, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled against the American Civil Liberties Union and rejected their petition to remove the amendment from the ballot. Specifically, the court rejected the argument that amendment was vague and misleading to voters. Though the court did acknowledge that the official ballot question did not exactly match the actual wording of the measure, they determined that it wasn't reason enough for the court to get involved. In a separate case, the court also threw out Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie's proposed ballot titles.
Ohio Redistricting Amendment challenged in court: An number advocacy groups, collectively called the Voters First coalition, has filed a lawsuit challenging the amendment's ballot language. The wording was approved by the Ohio Ballot Board but the coalition claims it is inaccurate and wants the board to reconvene and rewrite it. The amendment would take redistricting powers from state and federal elected officials.
Lawsuits filed over disqualified Missouri ballot measures: Groups in support of both the Payday Loan Initiative and the Minimum Wage Initiative have filed lawsuits in Cole County claiming that a number of valid petition signatures were not counted. The lawsuits come following the state's findings that the petitions for the measures contained an insufficient number of valid names.
Arizona sales tax question heads to court: Legal briefs have been filed with the Arizona Supreme Court arguing that the measure should be kept off the ballot due to an error with petitions filed at the start of the initiative's campaign. The error resulted in the original filing missing a full two paragraphs from the petition that was eventually circulated. According to the brief filed by the state, "Confusion has been created by virtue of the fact that one version of the proposed initiative was attached to the petition sheets while a substantially different version was simultaneously posted on the secretary’s website."
California Proposition 32 undergoes another change of ballot title: On Monday, August 13, the Sacramento County Superior Court ordered that the language of Proposition 32 be changed following a legal challenge by supporters of the measure. The new title given by the court ruling reads as: "Prohibits unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. Applies same use prohibition to payroll deductions, if any, by corporations or government contractors. Prohibits union and corporate contributions to candidates and their committees. Prohibits government contractor contributions to elected officers or their committees." The older title used the word "restricts" in place of "prohibits."
Michigan Emergency Manager Referendum officially back on the ballot: On Wednesday, July 25, the Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments in a contentious case involving a ballot measure being held off the ballot for the size of the font on its petitions. The measure in question is the Emergency Manager Referendum which was passed to the ballot with large public support. Despite having more than enough signatures, the measure was held from the ballot by the State Board of Canvassers when they deemed the print on the petitions to be too small. Following the appeal by referendum opponents of a lower court decision putting the measure back on the ballot, the case then went before the state supreme court.
Following a contentious court battle, a narrow 4-3 vote by the Michigan Supreme Court on August 3 placed the referendum back on this fall's ballot. According to reports, Justice Mary Beth Kelly, who wrote the controlling opinion, was the only justice who felt the font sizes were correct. Three other justices did not share that exact opinion but believed that "substantial compliance" with the law regarding the petition process was enough and voted to qualify the measure. The court's remaining three justices felt that strict compliance with the law is necessary and voted to keep the issue off the ballot.
Federal judge strikes down petition circulation law in Virginia: On Monday, July 30, U.S. District Judge John Gibney struck down the Virginia law that allows petitions to be circulated only by state residents. The ruling was the result of a lawsuit brought by the Libertarian Party of Virginia arguing that the law infringes on the party's freedom of speech. An appeal has not yet been announced.
- See also: Ballot Law Bill Tracker, 2012
- NewsOK.com, " Personhood group plans to appeal Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling," July 28, 2012
- Associated Press, "Ark. lawmakers take look at petition process," July 31, 2012
- Associated Press, "Minn. court weighs edited ballot question titles," July 31, 2012
- PostBulletin.com,"Minnesota court rejects challenge to photo ID," August 27, 2012
- Associated Press,"Lawsuit filed over Ohio redistricting amendment," August 23, 2012
- Associated Press, "Lawsuits filed over 2 Missouri ballot measures," August 17, 2012
- Associated Press, "Arizona ballot measure for 1-cent sales tax headed to court," August 13, 2012
- Los Angeles Times, "Judge orders changes to Prop. 32 language," August 13, 2012
- Associated Press, "Mich. court wrestles with type size on petitions," July 25, 2012
- Ballot Access News, "Michigan Supreme Court, by a Vote of 4-3, Puts Referendum on Ballot Despite Small Font Size," August 3, 2012
- Associated Press, "Petition Circulation Law Struck Down By Federal Judge," July 31