Citizen Blog

Nebraska petition laws are again being challenged in federal court by Citizen Kent Bernbeck, who claims the current system is unconstitutional.  The two legal provisions being contested are: (1) the state’s county-based distribution requirement, which is in the state constitution, and (2) a state statute that forbids compensating paid circulators on a per-signature basis.

“He is bringing this challenge to guarantee all Nebraskans can participate in this core democratic process,” David Domina, Bernbeck’s attorney, told reporters. “A process so important that the founders of our nation called out the right as fundamental and to be preserved without intrusion.”

A recent Gallup Poll shows that most Americans favor national referendums on key issues.  The poll, conducted July 6-7, tested 3 political issues first promoted by Doctor George Gallup in a 1978 Reader’s Digest article.

More than two-thirds of Americans, 68% of respondents, favored a proposal to “Require a nationwide popular vote on any issue if enough voters signed a petition to request a vote on the issue.”

Smaller majorities favored Gallup’s other ideas: shortening the presidential campaigns to five weeks (61%) and a single national presidential primary day, instead of individual state primaries on various dates (58%).

Legislators in California are not fond of citizen initiatives and referendums, especially the Democrats who enjoy supermajorities in both legislative chambers. But a recent San Diego Union Tribune editorial puts the blame on “State labor unions,” who it accuses of “once again trying to twist California’s century-old initiative process to work in their favor” by pushing legislation to unconstitutionally block paid signature collectors.

In the State of Washington, citizens can take two initiative routes to the ballot. The direct initiative is for putting measures directly to a public vote after submitting the required voter signatures and having those signatures verified.  There is also the indirect initiative, whereby after signature submission and verification, the initiative instead goes to the Washington Legislature. The legislature can then (a) adopt the measure “as is,” (b) place the measure “as is” on the ballot in addition to an alternative measure drawn up by legislators, thus letting the voters decide which they prefer, or (c) do nothing and let the initiative go directly on the ballot for a vote.

Controversial Oregon legislation, which makes minor petitioning infractions a potential felony offense for initiative sponsors, passed the Oregon House in a 35-22 vote along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed. Senate Bill 154 had already passed the state senate and is now headed to Governor John Kitzhaber, who is expected to sign it.

The bill requires any initiative campaign to have representatives sign a statement that the group’s petitioners understand Oregon laws regarding petitioning and that the campaign will abide by all laws. Initiative supporters fear that any infraction by any petitioner could then subject the measure’s sponsors to a felony charge of “False Swearing.”

On June 28, the Lucy Burns Institute released a summary of news related to the Initiative and Referendum process. Several court cases, news stories and bills to watch are profiled.

Read more: here.

Updated, July 3, 2013.

Since the US Supreme Court’s decision on Hollingsworth v. Perry, several outlets have written about the impact on the Initiative and Referendum process not only in California, where the case began, but nationwide in the states that allow I&R.

Here are links to several articles on the topic:

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the legal proponents of California’s Proposition 8 lacked standing to appeal the federal district court ruling, which had overturned the state’s voter-enacted ban on same sex marriage. In so doing, the High Court dealt a blow to citizen initiatives by blocking initiative proponents from defending their voter-enacted measures in federal court – even when state officials refuse to legally defend the initiative, thus dooming it to defeat.

Privacy issues are the focus of a first-in-the-nation petition bill in Iowa City, Iowa, which seeks to curb automated law enforcement in the form of red light cameras, license plate readers and drone aircraft used to catch traffic violations.  The petition was originally a referendum against the red light cameras and was sponsored by the citizen group “Stop Big Brother” as well as the ACLU of Iowa. The referendum was later expanded to include plate readers and drones.

A “proactive” move, says “Stop Big Brother” member Aleksey Gurtovoy since Iowa City currently does not utilize the plate readers or drones.

Arizona legislators and Governor Jan Brewer snuck one past the citizens of the Grand Canyon state in the final hours of this year’s seemingly never-ending legislative session. Legislators passed House Bill 2305, a sweeping new elections law that, among other suppressive features, allows officials to throw out perfectly valid signatures of Arizona voters on initiatives, referendums and recalls on the slightest of hyper-technical grounds.

Though Democrats protest that Governor Jan Brewer promised she would veto this legislation, she signed the controversial legislation into law last week.

Ohio’s Hamilton County Court of Appeals blocked a voter referendum in Cincinnati over the proposed decades-long lease of city parking lots to a private company in return for a lump sum payment of $92 million to plug a $35 million city budget deficit. The legal case concerns whether an ordinance passed as an emergency measure was subject to a citizen-initiated referendum.

This week’s appeals court ruling overturned an earlier decision by Common Pleas Judge Robert Winkler allowing the referendum to go forward. Winkler found that the right to referendum trumped the city council’s determination that the lease agreement was an emergency.

A University of Wisconsin-Platteville student leader may have met the repercussions for expressing his freedom of speech when his anticipated placement on the UW Board of Regents was pulled by Governor Scott Walker.  As a freshman, Joshua Inglett had signed the petition to recall Gov. Walker.

“I felt like my character had been attacked,” Inglett said.

UW-Platteville had even announced Inglett’s appointment on their website. The governor offered no reason for withdrawing the appointment.

“We’ve got plenty of other good candidates and we’re not going to get into specifics about it,” said Walker. “We’ve made a decision to withdraw the name in our office and we’ll be submitting another name to the Board of Regents.”

Targeted Senate President Appears Vulnerable

Pro-Second Amendment activists in Colorado recently turned in 16,199 signatures in an effort to recall State Senate President John Morse, who helped pass three gun control bills earlier this year. Of that total, only 7,178 valid signatures are required to force a recall election.

Due to the narrow margin of Sen. Morse’s election victory in 2010 – he won by less than 350 votes and only 48 percent of the total – backers of Morse recognize he may have a difficult time winning a recall election.

Referendum returned to Maryland last November in the form of three ballot questions seeking to do away with recently passed laws in the Old Line State.  The efforts came to naught as the ballot questions failed, but the three questions were unique in the fact that in the last 20 years only one previous referendum had graced the ballot in Maryland.

Past petition drives had tried and failed to make the ballot, but a new online petitioning website, sponsored by Maryland Delegate Neil Parrott, made it easier for citizens to refer laws in the state by petition.

Senate Bill 154 continued its march through the Oregon legislature this week, despite the protestations of prominent petition-rights supporters and citizen groups.  The bill moved via a party-line vote of 16-14 in the Senate, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposing the legislation.

SB 154 requires petition firms to register with the Secretary of State and also to sign a statement affirming that the firms will not break the law. The bill also forces initiative campaigns to have two representatives swear that the campaign has broken no law. The problem is that petition companies and initiative sponsors can then be prosecuted on a felony charge of “false swearing” if someone working for them does anything wrong, even through an innocent mistake.