Citizen Blog

Virginia Beach officials won’t tell a group of citizens whether or not they have enough voter signatures to place the city’s proposed light rail project on the ballot for an up-or-down vote. The group, No Light Rail in Virginia Beach, turned in 26,236 signatures, more than enough to reach the requirement of 25 percent of the vote in the “prior” election.

Yet, in a letter, the city’s general registrar announced, “I hereby certify that the number of valid signatures reviewed by this office as of the date of this submission exceeds 25% of the number of votes cast in the 2015 Election but does not exceed 25% of the number of votes cast in the 2014 Election.”

Last week, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 120, providing an additional $16 million in funding to the state’s 58 counties for verifying millions of voter signatures on “potentially dozens of initiative petitions” and for processing the crush of new voter registrations.                                                                                                                   Secretary of State Alex Padilla applauded the funding bill, calling this election cycle “unique.” He explained that, “County elections officials must not only prepare for a surge in voter turnout, they also have to verify a massive number of signatures for ballot measure initiative petitions.”

Wyoming’s law banning initiative campaigns from paying petition circulators according to the number of signatures they gather is facing legislative repeal. This week, the Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee in the state senate voted to pass the repeal legislation, Senate File 35, unanimously.

This week, Citizens in Charge Foundation President Paul Jacob traveled to Pierre and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to release an 18-page report on the prosecution of Dr. Annette Bosworth by South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, warning at a news conference in Sioux Falls that it may have “a chilling effect on political participation.”

“We want the law to be enforced and people held accountable,” said Jacob, “but the severity of this penalty goes too far and threatens to scare citizens away from getting involved in politics.”

Legislative Bill 367 sailed through Nebraska’s unicameral legislature today on a 42-0 vote. Without a single dissent, the legislation reverses the state’s seven-year ban on paying petition circulators according to the number of signatures they gather on a petition.

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, the bill’s author, declared that the Legislature and the people whad become locked in a “civil war” after voters passed term limits for State Senators more than a dozen years ago.

Groene, serving his first term, told fellow lawmakers, “It’s time for this body to call a truce.”

The Arkansas Supreme Court reversed most of Circuit Judge Mary McGowan’s previous ruling, which declared numerous provisions of Act 1413 to be unconstitutional restrictions on the rights of Arkansans seeking to petition their government. Legislators passed the Act back in 2013.

Maine State Rep. Stanley Short (D-Pittsfield) is introducing legislation on behalf of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, a pro-hunting group, to regulate and restrict non-resident paid petitioners. The text of the bill has yet to be released, but reports say it will ban out-of-state petitioners and require paid-petitioners to register with the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices and to wear a special ID badge on their persons while petitioning.

An effort in Woburn, Massachusetts, to help educate area voters on the effects of future ballot measures and referendum questions has hit a snag in the City Council’s Liaison Committee.  Disagreements over the issue of who would write the summaries describing each ballot issue and who would approve that text have put any action on hold for now.

The issue arose after a 2014 local referendum on the adoption of a “Community Preservation Act,” which election officials were not allowed to explain to voters for the sake of neutrality. The measure ultimately failed, but inspired City Clerk William Campbell to push for some method by which voters could be better informed about ballot questions.

The low turnout of voters in the recent mid-term elections disappointed quite a few folks throughout the country. Those seeking to qualify initiatives for the 2016 ballot, however, have something to cheer about.  With fewer votes being cast come lower thresholds for signature requirements in many initiative states, especially in initiative heavy-weight California, where the signature requirement has dropped to the lowest raw number in 25 years.

A century-old Nebraska rule for initiative qualification has been struck down as unconstitutional by US District Court Judge Joseph F. Bataillon. The provision required signatures from “5% of registered voters of each of the 2/5ths of the counties in the state.” This meant that petitions for ballot measures were required to be circulated in at least 38 of the 93 counties in the Cornhusker State.

The plaintiff in the case, Kent Bernbeck, brought the suit claiming that under the now defunct rule, rural voters counted for more than voters in more urban areas. 

“The court finds that the facts presented in this case show clearly that urban votes are diluted under the Nebraska Constitution,” the judge stated in his opinion.

Last week’s elections allowed voters across the country to decide issues important to them. But not in New Jersey, a state that lacks any process for citizens to petition initiatives onto the ballot or to refer laws passed by the state legislature to voters.

Jersey citizens are on the outside looking in at states that allow direct democracy, i.e. citizen-initiated measures. That might be one reason that less than one in three Garden State citizens turned out to vote in the mid-term election – setting an all-time record low.

Tuesday November 4, 2014 North Dakota voters rejected a legislatively referred constitutional amendment which would have placed new restrictions on the initiative process. Measure 4 would have allowed the state to stop any petition from being circulated that would appropriate funds directly or require the legislature to appropriate funds. The measure would also have required all initiatives with significant fiscal impact to be voted on at the general election. Like many legislative referred ballot questions this amendment had potential to significantly reduce citizen’s ability to propose legislation.
When voters in North Dakota went to the polls on Tuesday, Measure 4 was rejected with 56.59% (135,408 of 239,296) voting “No”.

2014 Election

Wed, Nov 5 2014 by Neal Hobson

November 4, 2014 has come and gone and with the election and unseating of many politicians, 146 ballot measures also were decided. The issues ranged from minimum wage hikes to marijuana legalization.

Ballotpedia has a comprehensive guide to all of the ballot measures that were up for a vote on Tuesday.

An ABC news report on the results of several well-publicized measures throughout the United States: Here

A group of direct democracy activists from Europe, Asia and South America has begun their “Big River to Democracy Tour” observing the U.S. mid-term elections and visiting with election officials, academics and initiative practitioners in four states – Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana.

The group sponsored by Democracy International is in Kansas City today. Tomorrow, they will travel Little Rock, Arkansas, where Citizens in Charge Foundation President Paul Jacob, an Arkansas native, will be hosting the group for a Wednesday night dinner and then a full day of presentations on Thursday from those engaged in the five issues on the Arkansas ballot today.

The tour ends Sunday in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Across the country, voters will finish casting ballots tomorrow in a mid-term election that features 146 statewide issues.  This is the lowest number of statewide ballot measures since 1988, but it also marks the lowest number of citizen-initiated ballot questions since 1974. Of the 146 issues, only 35 were brought to voters by successful citizen petition efforts, the remaining 111 were referred by state legislatures.