The Tuesday Count: All not quiet in ballot measure world, despite zero certifications

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September 4, 2012

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By Eric Veram and Al Ortiz

In a departure from the weekly increase of certifications that is usually seen, there have been no new measures added to this fall's ballot since last week. This leaves our count at the 166 statewide questions in 35 states for 2012 as reported last week.

In spite of this, there is no shortage of events developing around potential measures that are still under consideration. One such story is the discovery of large scale petition fraud allegedly carried out by the North Dakota State University football team.

In his review of five potential initiatives, North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger found that at least two of them will not be appearing on the ballot in November because hundreds of petition signatures were false. According to state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, many of the fake signatures were either taken from names in phone books or fictitiously created by the signers.

Reportedly, eleven individuals face misdemeanor fraud charges for making false statements when circulating the petitions. Eight of those charged are NDSU football players, who were apparently paid $9 an hour to gather signatures. The measures that will not be making the ballot are the Oil Taxes for Wildlife Projects Amendment and the Medical Marijuana Initiative.[1]

In other news, last week saw Alaska's primary election take place on August 28. Two measures appeared on the ballot and although only unofficial results have been reported thus far, both measures appear to have been turned down by voters.

The first question, Ballot Measure 1 would allow a city or borough to raise the property tax exemption on a residence from $20,000 to at most $50,000. Though current reports show the measure as being rejected, the numbers are still too close to call. Currently, the totals are 51,766 'Yes' votes and 53,002 'No' votes. As more votes are counted, it is possible for the outcome to shift in favor of the measure.

The second question put before voters, appearing as Ballot Measure 2 on the ballot, would have established a new coastal management program in the state. Unlike Measure 1, however, this initiative was soundly defeated with 61.91% voting against it and 38.09% voting for it.

Alabama special election approaches

Exactly two weeks from now, Alabama will hold a special election on September 18. The ballot that day will contain a question for voters called Amendment 1. The measure asks voters to authorize the transfer of $437 million over the next three years from the Alabama Trust Fund to the state’s General Fund.

Although the chief point argued by supporters for the need to transfer the money is to bolster the state’s Medicaid system, there is a phrase in the measure's wording that has some residents confused: "to prevent the mass release of prisoners from Alabama prisons."

According to a report by the Anniston Star, nothing in the amendment specifically mandates the release of prisoners, but rather the resultant budget cuts across the board could necessitate it. According to Kim Thomas, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections, the state would have to release 9,000 of the current 25,000 incarcerated prisoners in order to balance the budget should the amendment fail.

Featured campaign quotes:
Oklahoma SQ 762 - Support
Speaker of the State House Kris Steele
Letting the governor focus on parole recommendations for violent crimes is a critical component of Oklahoma’s recent progress to build a stronger, more effective criminal justice system.[2]

Oklahoma SQ 762 - Opposition
State Representative Jason Murphey
When you take the governor out of [the parole] process [for non-violent crimes] the people of Oklahoma have no one to hold accountable...[2]

However, in spite of the possible need to release prisoners early, there are few possible legal methods available to do so, including parole and medical furlough, according to reports. Thomas has stated that, "We would need some legislative mechanism to allow us to release them."[3]

The measure's sponsors in the state senate are Senators Trip Pittman and Arthur Orr. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley is also a supporter of the amendment.

Quick hits

Explanations of South Dakota measures posted: South Dakota Secretary of State Jason Gant has posted an online pamphlet that includes explanations for voters to get informed on the measures that will appear on the November ballot. The pamphlet contains Attorney General Marty Jackley's explanations and the pro and con statements submitted for each measure. There are seven measures currently slated for the November ballot.

Colorado voters will not chime in on controversial proposal: The proposed Colorado "personhood" amendment will not appear on the ballot after supporters fell short of the signature requirement. According to the Colorado Secretary of State's office, signatures fell about 3,900 short of the more than 86,000 signatures needed. The measure would define the term "person" in the state constitution as the start of biological development. On August 6, the Colorado Personhood Coalition submitted 112,121 signatures to the secretary's office.[4]


Lone September local measure on an Oregon county ballot

The month of September has arrived, and with it comes one local ballot measure election with one proposal on the Clackamas County, Oregon ballot.[5]

The measure, slated for the September 18 election, seeks to provide for law requiring that any decision on light rail in the county would have to be approved by public vote. This measure was brought to the ballot through a successful petition drive by residents, who obtained 9,728 valid signatures. In all, 9,378 were needed.

An opinion released by county attorneys stated that even if this measure were to be approved, it would not affect the local Portland-Milwaukie light rail project, which is already underway. The attorney stated that the measure would just be relevant to future projects only and could not be applied to those already in development. The measure may still be challenged in court.

Read more about Clackamas County ballot measures here.

The Tuesday Count Spotlight highlights notable developments from local ballot measures across the country as well as international ballot measures.

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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.[6]

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.[7]

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