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Petition Rights Group Upset with Secretary of State

January 25th, 2011 by mopns · No Comments

Yesterday, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, certified the Ballot Title for a citizen’s initiative petition called “The Petition Rights Protection Act” submitted by The Committee to Protect Petition Rights.

The group is very unhappy with the description Secretary Carnahan wrote to be used on the petition and  ballot.

If the requisite signatures are gathered, the petition will allow voters the opportunity to change the statutes that govern the petition process. Motivating 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’s proponent, Ron Calzone explained to MOPNS, “The petition process has become a rich man’s game here in Missouri, but it should be available to the rich and poor alike. 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 greatest concern is the potentially endless litigation over the Ballot Title, the short explanation that appears on both the petition and the ballot. The time-frame for collecting signatures for a constitutional amendment is constitutionally limited to an 18 month window. Over a month is typically consumed in the Ballot Title drafting process, leaving less than 17 months, at best, to collect hundreds of thousands of signatures from registered voters.

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 3 months to collect signatures — far too little time for a grass-roots petition drive.

Two dynamics are at play.  First, as was the situation with the eminent domain petition, anyone with enough legal muscle can tie up an accurate and fair ballot title in court indefinitely.

Second, just as the proponents of the The Petition Rights Protection Act are complaining about, the Secretary of State can purposely word a ballot title to make the petition sound like something it isn’t, forcing the petition proponent to either give up or challenge his own ballot title.  Either way, litigation kills the citizen’s constitutional right to the initiative petition process.

A spokesman for the Committee to Protect Petition Rights expressed their frustration, “Secretary of State Robin Carnahan has the state’s worst record where petitions are concerned.  She has had more ballot titles thrown out in court than, perhaps, all of her predecessors combined.  This is clear abuse of office.”

The actual petition langauge can be viewed here.

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