OMAHA, NE — Today, Common Cause Nebraska joined the Nebraska Civic Engagement Table, Dr. Steve Dunbar and UNL law professor Anthony Schutz in filing an amicus brief with the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the challenge to Nebraska’s ballot qualification process in Christa Eggers and Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana v. Nebraska Secretary of State.
The Nebraska Constitution requires people circulating petitions for ballot initiatives to gather signatures from 5% of registered voters in 38 of the state’s 93 counties. The brief outlines the historical importance of the right to petition and why the current requirement gives an unprecedented amount of power to rural counties over suburban and urban counties.
The lawsuit filed against Secretary of State Bob Evnen claims that the process tips the scales, infringing the “one person, one vote” requirement, a key staple of the Fourteenth Amendment. ACLU Nebraska — who is representing Eggers in the case — also claims that “the requirement infringes on the First Amendment right to free political speech,” with wealthy and well-connected groups predominantly being the only groups able to fully fund successful initiatives.
Currently, a state appeal restored the requirement, though the federal lawsuit against it progresses.
“The county requirement not only limits the right to petition in ways that diminish the power of voters, it also guarantees that only those with the financial means to run paid signature drives will ever get on the ballot,” said Gavin Geis, executive director of Common Cause Nebraska. “Every voter in Nebraska should have equal power to help decide what issues appear on the ballot, just like they have equal say in what becomes law on election day.”
“The current county distribution requirement dilutes the voting power of people who live in more populated counties, especially voters from historically marginalized communities. By looking at populations by county, we can see that their influence is not the same,” said Meg Mikolajczyk, J.D., executive director of Nebraska Civic Engagement Table.
“For example, in Dakota County it takes 154 petition signatures from voters of color to equal one such signature in Arthur County. Under Nebraska law, some voters have strikingly more influence than others — a violation of citizens’ rights to be counted fairly.”
To read the amicus brief, click here.