Ballot Law Update: Courts cut it close as ballot printing deadlines approach

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September 26, 2012

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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.

Recent news

Lawsuit filed aiming at newly certified Arkansas Medical Marijuana Question: After verifying that supporters had turned in enough signatures, Arkansas election officials placed the measure on the ballot for this fall. But a coalition of conservative groups called the Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values filed a lawsuit against the measure with the Arkansas Supreme Court on Friday, August 31. The lawsuit asks that the measure either be stricken from the ballot or that votes for it not be counted. The coalition argues that initiative backers failed to inform voters that even if the measure is approved, medical marijuana users could still face prosecution under federal law.[1]

Formal charges brought against those accused of faking signatures on North Dakota measures: A total of 15 people were formally charged on Friday, September 7, with faking petition signatures, 9 of whom are North Dakota State University football players. Those charged have their first court appearance for the case scheduled for October 2. Maximum sentence for the misdemeanor they are charged with is one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.[2]

California Court of Appeals issues opinion on red-light camera initiative: The California Court of Appeals has just released its opinion of a decision made on August 11 to place an initiative seeking to ban red-light cameras back on the ballot. According to the September 18 ruling, the court says it is not general practice to remove initiatives from the ballot before they are allowed to receive a vote. The opinion further states that if the measure passes, opponents may file a new lawsuit over whether or not red-light cameras can be the subject of referendum. The opinion can be found here.[3]

Court actions

Michigan Supreme Court hears arguments over four ballot proposals: On Thursday, August 30, the Michigan Supreme Court heard oral arguments for four separate ballot proposals, one of which has already been placed on the ballot: the "Protect Our Jobs" Amendment. The court is also being asked to decide the fate of three measures that were kept from the ballot following a 'No' vote on all three by the only present Republican member of the Board of State Canvassers at its meeting last week. Those measures are the Casino Gaming Amendment, the International Bridge Initiative, and the Taxation Amendment.[4]

On Wednesday, September 5, the Michigan Supreme Court issued its ruling on the measures brought before it. The "Protect Our Jobs" Amendment, was already on the ballot but was confirmed by the court. Two other measures, the International Bridge Initiative and the Taxation Amendment, were approved by the court and sent on to the ballot. The final measure considered, the Casino Gaming Amendment, was disqualified from the ballot by a 4-3 vote in the court. The court stated its reason for disqualifying the measure was because petitioners did not warn potential signers that the amendment would cause a reduction in the constitutional authority of the Liquor Control Commission.[5]

Arizona Supreme Court places Arkansas Proposition 121 on the ballot: The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on September 7, 2012, allowing the measure to appear on the November 6, 2012 ballot. The court rejected claims by opponents of the measure that were not given enough time in court to present evidence for their case. In the court's opinion, Justice Scott Bales wrote that Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Rea allotted only four hours for the trial, with each side given the same amount of time, but also that the plaintiffs' attorney did not object to that allotment before the trial.[6]

Lawsuit aimed at delaying Colorado's blue book dismissed: On September 13, 2012, Denver District Court Judge Robert Hyatt dismissed a lawsuit filed by supporters of Colorado Amendment 64. The lawsuit sought to delay the printing of the state's ballot information booklet, know as the blue book, because, according to the plaintiffs, the legislative committee struck final draft key language in the section describing arguments in support of the initiative. The lawsuit was, reportedly, dismissed due to a "jurisdictional issue."[7]

North Dakota Supreme Court rejects final effort by medical marijuana supporters: Supporters of the North Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative filed a lawsuit directly with the North Dakota Supreme Court on Friday, September 14, 2012, asking that the measure be placed on the ballot. The measure was previously kicked off the ballot after North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger determined that a number of the signatures were faked by petition gatherers. Supporters claim that Secretary Jaeger failed to follow constitutional and statutory legal requirements by rejecting whole pages of petitions containing fraudulent signatures rather than investigating each name.[8]

On Wednesday, September 19, the court rejected the challenge to place the measure on the ballot. The ruling allows state officials to begin printing ballots around the state, meaning that they will be printed in time for absentee and military voters. The ruling also helps state officials decide what to do when fraudulent signatures are encountered int he future.[9]

See also