Fight Continues over Initiative Signature Requirement

3 Aug 2022, 1 p.m. ·

Heading of court filing on initiative petition lawsuit
Heading of court filing on initiative petition lawsuit

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As Nebraska counties check whether there are enough signatures to put initiatives like legalizing medical marijuana on the ballot, the legal fight over where those signatures must be collected continues.

In May, supporters of legalizing medical marijuana challenged Nebraska’s requirement that petition signatures must be collected from 5 percent of voters in at least two-fifths of the state’s counties.

In June, a federal judge ruled that challenge was likely to succeed, and issued a temporary injunction against enforcing it. In July, an appeals court stayed that injunction, meaning the requirement stands for now.

Tuesday, groups including Common Cause Nebraska filed a friend of the court brief, arguing the requirement should be struck down, because it gives voters in less-populous counties more power than those in more-populous counties.

“Every voter in Nebraska should have the same power to decide what appears on the ballot, just like they have the same power on Election Day to decide who represents them; what petitions or ballot initiatives become law. The current structure violates those principles of equality between different Nebraskans,” said Gavin Geis, executive director of Common Cause Nebraska.

Earlier, attorneys general from 15 states filed a friend of the court brief supporting Nebraska’s signature distribution requirements. They argued that the one person/one vote principle applies to representative democracy, not direct democracy like initiatives and referenda; and that distribution requirements ensure rural voters have a say in what goes on the ballot, instead of that being determined only by voters in a handful of the largest counties.

It’s not known when the court will decide. Meanwhile, the verification of signatures is proceeding under the old rules, with decisions about what qualifies for the ballot expected in mid-September.