|Jefferson City - Yesterday (Jan. 24, 2011), Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, certified the ballot title for a citizen's initiative petition. "The Petition Rights Protection Act" was submitted by the Committee to Protect Petition Rights and they say they are very unhappy with the description Carnaham authorized for use on the petition and ballot, claiming she purposely authorized wording that makes the petition appear to be something it isn't.
If the requisite signatures are gathered, the petition will allow voters the opportunity to change the statutes that govern the petition process. Motivating the circulation of the petition are concerns about the ability of true grass-roots efforts to use the petition process the Missouri Constitution guarantees them in Article III, Section 49.
"The petition process has become a rich man's game here in Missouri, but it should be available to the rich and poor alike," said Ron Calzone, spokesperson for the group. "Enough money can either ensure ballot access or kill a petition --either way it's effectively out of the reach of average citizens most of the time. Now Secretary Carnahan has further profaned the process with more of her creative writing skills."
The group's greatest concern is the potentially endless litigation that occurs and over time spent in gaining authorization for the ballot title, the short explanation that appears on both the petition and the ballot. Both cut into the process of gathering signatures constitutionally limited to an 18 month window. Since over a month is typically consumed in the ballot title drafting process, only 17 months, at best, is left to collect the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed from registered voters. And they say that the effort to outlaw private use eminent domain in the 2010 election cycle was thwarted by the very sort of protracted litigation this new petition seeks to limit. Although the eminent domain petition effort was started on the first day allowed by law, legal hurdles and the ballot title challenge to that petition by the Missouri Municipal League left less than three months to collect signatures-- far too little time, the group says, for a grass-roots petition drive.
Supporters of the Act want to limit litigation time to 3 1/2 months and claim there then would be ample opportunity to ensure a fair and accurate ballot title is used and still leave time to collect signatures. The changes this initiative seeks to make to Chapter 116 RSMo, Relating to Initiative Petitions 2012-014, in addition to streamlining the ballot title process, are:
- Make respect for the voters the primary consideration in the petition processing procedure
- Prevent mistakes in disenfranchising the voter who signs a petition
- Fix problems over validation of signatures
- Address potential fraudulent practices in the petition process and establish a penalty for defrauding voters by misrepresenting a petition as well as maliciously intimidating or obstructing a petition signer
What seems to be the greatest objection to the language that Carnaham proposed was in the inclusion of cost to taxpayers should the proposed changes be made. Carnahan added that "State government would incur estimated costs of up to $76,000 and could incur other unknown potential litigation costs." In addition, "Local election authorities could incur estimated costs exceeding $1 million if ballot reprinting would be necessary." To view the petition language go here.