Direct democracy in full swing as seven state initiative deadlines arrive this week
By Al Ortiz and Eric Veram
The Fourth of July holiday is quickly approaching, so it seems fitting for direct democracy to take over across the country. Supporters of statewide ballot initiatives in seven states this week face deadlines on different days.
Starting on July 4, for three consecutive days there will be petition drive deadlines in Arizona, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Ohio, Oregon and Washington. The required amount of valid signatures must be turned in by supporters to the appropriate election officials on those days in order for initiatives to be placed on the ballot.
Five out of those seven states had initiatives on the ballot during the last ballot measure election in 2010. However, a different year could mean different results.
Below is a summary of key initiatives being circulating in certain states, the requirements that must be met to obtain ballot access and the date of states' deadlines.
Massachusetts has the most complex initiative process among the states with petition drive deadlines this week.
Proponents of potential citizen-initiated measures must have collected 68,911 signatures by November 23, 2011 to turn them into local registrars. After it finding that enough valid signatures were collected, petitions are then returned to supporters, who this year had until the December 7, 2011 petition drive deadline to turn those signatures in to the Massachusetts Secretary of State's office.
Once signatures are deemed valid, proposed laws are then sent to the Massachusetts General Assembly for consideration.
If the general assembly does not choose to make the proposal a law, supporters must then gather additional signatures to obtain ballot access. Those signatures must be obtained from about 1/2 of 1% of voters who voted in the last governor election and supporters must submit them to the Massachusetts Secretary of State. This amounts to about 11,000 signatures
Only four initiatives, out of the original 31 that were proposed for circulation with the Massachusetts Attorney General, made it to the state legislature, and three are currently in the second signature phase.
Two initiatives, a "right to repair" proposal and teacher evaluation initiative, were considered by the lawmaking body, with the "right to repair" initiative being rejected. Therefore, supporters of that plan are gathering signatures.
Update: Deadline is usually first Wednesday of July. However, Massachusetts deadline is on July 3 due to the July 4 holiday.
Residents in Ohio could potentially see a vast number of hot-button political topics on the ballot this year, that is if supporters of certain initiatives turn in signatures on time.
In Ohio, the statewide petition drive deadline for ballot initiatives seeking ballot access in 2012 is July 4, 2012. That is when supporters of initiated constitutional amendments need to turn in 385,247. For indirect initiated state statutes, the magic number is 115,574.
Potential ballot issues brewing in the backdrop of the presidential race in Ohio include two marijuana measures that have lit up a sizable debate.
One measure, calling for the legal use of marijuana for medical purposes in the state was proposed as the Ohio Medical Cannabis Act by a "core group of patients" advocating for the use of medical marijuana. A similar measure is circulating for 2013.
Another notable measure deals with the term "personhood" in the state constitution. The initiative would define a person as any human at any stage of development, including fertilization. It is being supported by Personhood Ohio as part of a nationwide campaign to change state constitutions to include all stages of development when defining a person.
Finally, the redistricting process in the state, which has taken a front seat in the political world in Ohio and other states, could be voted on come fall 2012.
The initiative would create a 12-person citizen commission to draw legislative and congressional district maps. According to supporters of the measure, the commission would create districts that would reflect the state's geographic, racial, ethnic and political diversity. The initiative would also bar lobbyists and elected officials from joining the commission. Currently, the Ohio Legislature redraws district maps every ten years due to population shifts.
Update: Although July 4 is a holiday, reports are indicating that the deadline is that day.
The lone July 5 state will have its supporters scrambling for what could be a hectic petition drive deadline day.
Supporters of ballot initiative efforts have until that day to turn in the required amount of signatures for their proposals. Signature requirements for ballot initiative efforts are 259,212 signatures for initiated constitutional amendments and 172,808 for initiated state statutes. More than 30 initiatives were filed for circulation this year with Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett's office, although it is unclear as to how many are circulating or will file signatures by the deadline.
However, one particular initiative story out of the state in the week leading up to the final signature collecting day has been dominating headlines.
Ballot language for a sales tax initiative in the state seems to have hit a road bump created by controversy surrounding the measure's ballot language.
Previously, the proposal to renew a 2010 voter-approved one-cent sales tax to provide funding for education for students in the state who meet certain requirements, scholarships for college students and reinvestment in vocational education and new jobs seemed well on its way to being placed on the November 6 ballot.
According to reports on June 6, supporters of the initiative stated that they had collected enough signatures to make the ballot. Reports stated that petition drive organizers had collected more than 175,000 signatures from state voters.
However, on June 19, it was reported that a mistake regarding the ballot language of the measure could hinder initiative efforts and keep the measure off of the November ballot. Reports said that supporters pointed to a "clerical error" in which ballot language on circulating petitions was found to be different than official ballot language on record with the Arizona Secretary of State's office.
On June 26, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett stated, after signatures were submitted to his office days before, that the proposal did not have sufficient signatures to make the ballot. Signatures were disqualified because of the difference in the ballot language on the circulation petitions and the ballot language that the secretary's office had on file.
On June 28, Quality Education and Jobs Committee filed a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court, claiming that their signatures were valid and that their proposal should be placed on the ballot.
The state of Arkansas is not without its fair share of controversial ballot measures.
Among initiatives are still active is an would allow 24-hour casinos in seven state counties. The proposal was introduced by Michael Wasserman, a Texas businessman who owns Arkansas Hotels and Entertainment Inc. His company would both own and operate the casinos, which would be located in the counties of Sebastian, Pulaski, Garland, Miller, Crittenden, Boone and Jefferson. There is also a second proposal circulating. According to reports, if both measures make the ballot, the one with the most votes would be enacted.
A circulating ethics law proposal could find its way onto the ballot as well. The measure would change state campaign and ethics laws by placing a ban on direct corporate and union contributions to political campaigns in the state
Arkansas could also have a say on whether or not to tweak the way these citizen proposals make it onto the ballot. That measure would reduce the percentage of voter signatures needed to place ballot initiatives on the ballot.
Currently there are eight citizen initiated measures circulating petitions in Nebraska. Of these eight, however, there are only four different subjects covered by the measures: petition signature requirements, marijuana, same-sex marriage, and first-degree sexual assault. The reason for this being that some of the initiatives have been filed in different forms with slightly different wordings.
For those filed as state statutes, supporters are required to collect valid signatures from a minimum of seven percent of registered voters. The number is ten percent of registered voters for initiated constitutional amendments. Because of this policy, signature gatherers cannot know the exact number of names required until the day they are filed.
In the state of Oregon there are currently 45 measures that have been proposed for the November ballot as citizen initiatives. Of that number, so far one has qualified for the ballot: the Real Estate Transfer Tax Amendment, also known as, Initiative 5. This large number of filed measures does reflect the fact that many have been proposed with minor differences by groups seeking to maximize their chances of reaching the ballot.
In order to place a measure on the general election ballot, supporters must gather valid signatures equaling 8% of the votes cast for the office of governor in the state's most recent gubernatorial election for constitutional amendments, 6% for state statutes, and 4% for veto referendums. This translates into 116,283, 87,213, and 58,142 signatures, respectively.
According to Ballotpedia's filed initiative count page, at least 84 initiatives filed for circulation in the state of Washington. However, it is not known how many were withdrawn, ceased circulation, or chose not to pursue the ballot.
For initiatives hoping to be granted ballot access, a minimum of 241,153 valid petition signatures are required to qualify an Initiative to the People for the 2012 statewide ballot.
One initiative already on the ballot is Initiative 502. That measure would legalize the production, possession, delivery and distribution of marijuana. The initiative would regulate the sale of small amounts of marijuana to people 21 and older. According to reports, marijuana grow farms and food processors would be licensed by the Washington State Liquor Control Board
There were other marijuana initiatives that had filed for circulation, however it is not known if organizers will file signatures on the day of the deadline due to the certification of Initiative 502.
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