Ballot Law Update: Last minute complaints filed and a look at a little of what to expect in 2013

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October 25, 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 against Georgia public school districts: Attorney and charter school advocate Glenn Delk has filed a lawsuit against 180 school districts in Georgia and claiming that they have been carrying on a "coordinated campaign and conspiracy" aiming to defeat Georgia Amendment 1. The lawsuit further alleges that a collection of groups, referred to as the "Education Empire," are using taxpayer money in a campaign to defeat the measure. The lawsuit lists the Education Empire as consisting of "the teachers unions, the Georgia School Boards Association, the Georgia School Superintendents Association and others." The first hearing is scheduled for October 10.[1]

Gallaudet University official placed on leave after signing referendum: An administrative official at Gallaudet University was recently placed on paid leave after it was discovered that the individual signed his name to a petition regarding the Maryland Same-Sex Marriage Referendum. The Maryland Catholic Conference responded to the incident saying the action of signing the referendum should not be considered hate speech and should not warrant employer sanctions. T. Alan Hurwitz, president of the university, released a statement on October 10 saying, "It recently came to my attention that Dr. McCaskill has participated in a legislative initiative that some feel is inappropriate for an individual serving as chief diversity officer; however, other individuals feel differently. I will use the extended time while she is on administrative leave to determine the appropriate next steps taking into consideration the duties of this position at the university. In the meantime an interim chief diversity officer will be announced in the near future."[2]

Allegations of campaign finance violations filed against Help Save Maryland: On Monday, October 15, the Maryland Democratic Party sent a letter to state prosecutors accusing Help Save Maryland of breaking campaign finance laws. The letter claims that recent radio ads aired by the group openly oppose the Maryland Dream Act. The claim goes on to say that if the group engages in political advocacy against the legislation, it should have registered a ballot initiative committee. Such committees are required to report from where they receive their money. Brad Botwin, director of the group, says that neither the radio ads nor the group's website take an official position on Question 4. He further went on to call the allegations "another violation of my First Amendment rights."[3]

Idaho Secretary of State sues for donor information: On Monday, October 22, Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa filed a lawsuit against the group called Education Voters of Idaho. The group has donated large amounts of money to a campaign aimed at retaining the laws being subject to referendum this November. The group is fighting disclosing its donors, saying that they are protected by federal law and are being specifically targeted for harassment. Secretary Ysura countered that claim, stating that he has made similar donor information requests from the Idaho Education Association and National Education Association.[4]

Group raises late complaint over the Montana Medical Marijuana Veto Referendum's ballot language: The group called Safe Communities, Safe Kids announced a political practice complaint against Attorney General Steve Bullock over the referendum's ballot language. The group claims that the official language is misleading to voters. The complaint was made on Wednesday, October 17, despite the language having been approved during the summer and the legal ten day window for challenging ballot language being passed. Because of the proximity to election day, Bullock's assistants have labelled the complaint "a political stunt."[5]

Court actions

Arkansas Supreme Court orders Arkansas Medical Marijuana Question remain on the ballot: On Thursday, September 27, the court ruled in favor of keeping the measure on the ballot. 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, arguing that the measure fails to properly inform voters. In response to the argument, the court wrote, "We hold that it is an adequate and fair representation without misleading tendencies or partisan coloring. Therefore, the act is proper for inclusion on the ballot at the general election on Nov. 6, 2012, and the petition is therefore denied."[6]

Citizenship question removed from Michigan ballots: A hearing on the citizenship question set to appear on Michigan ballots this November was held by Detroit federal Judge Paul Borman on Friday, October 5. Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson defended the question in court as a measure intending to fight voter fraud. The question was intended to appear at the top of the ballot and ask voters whether or not they are American citizens. The ACLU filed the suit over the question alleging that it will cause long lines at the ballot boxes and qualifies as voter intimidation.[7]

Following a preliminary injunction ordered by Judge Borman on the day of the hearing, Secretary Johnson dropped the controversial citizenship question from the state's ballots. The decision came after the ACLU successfully argued that voters are already required to confirm U.S. citizenship when they register to vote in the state of Michigan, thus rendering the question redundant.[8]

Judge says he will not rule on I-166 until after the election: Montana District Court Judge David Cybulski says he will not rule on the merits of I-166 before it goes to the polls on November 6. Instead, Judge Cybulski has said he will focus on whether or not allowing the measure on the ballot in the first place was a mistake made by Attorney General Steve Bullock and Secretary of State Linda McCulloch. If the court finds that certifying the measure was a mistake on the part of the state, it could order election offices to simply ignore votes on the initiative.[9]

Bills to watch

See also: Ballot Law Bill Tracker, 2012

Legislator looks to put recall bill on the 2013 agenda in Alabama: Senator Minority Leader Roger Bedford has pre-filed a bill with the state senate for the 2013 agenda. According to the proposal, a recall petition could be initiated against and office holder on the grounds of malfeasance or nonfeasance, lack of physical or mental fitness, incompetence or violation of an oath of office. According to reports, Sen. Bedford believes that Alabamans would vote for the option to recall elected officials if given the chance by the current Republican majority int he legislature.[10]

See also