Backers of the Count My Vote ballot initiative filed their legal challenge to being kept off the November ballot on Friday afternoon.
They argue the provision in election law allowing petition signers to remove their names after signatures have been turned in is unconstitutional, and “stacks the deck” unfairly in favor those who want to keep the measure from going to voters.
Count My Vote initially met the state’s requirements for ballot inclusion, gathering more than 113,000 signatures statewide and signatures equal to 10% of the last presidential vote in 26 of Utah’s 29 Senate districts. However, opponents of Count My Vote launched a well-funded effort to get signators to remove their names in three of those districts, ultimately causing the CMV petition to fail by less than 600 signatures total.
“Opponents of the initiative were effectively able to prevent the CMV Initiative from going to a full up-or-down vote of the people by convincing just a fraction of one percent (0.04%) of the over 131,000 voters who signed in favor of the CMV initiative to remove their signatures, the group argued in their legal filing with the Utah Supreme Court.
Three other proposed initiatives were able to qualify for the ballot, but CMV noted that two of them did not face organized opposition. However, they did say that the proposal to legalize medical marijuana came within 100 signatures of failing to qualify following an effort by opponents to remove names.
CMV lawyers make several other arguments that the provision allowing signers to remove their names from the petitions is unfair.
Before 2010, requests to remove a signature from an initiative had to be notarized. The legislature removed that requirement, which was “the last thread that was arguably keeping the Removal Provision…constitutional,” according to the court filing.
“The current, relative ease by which an initiative opposition group may now obtain the removal of signatures, especially in light of the relative difficulty in obtaining valid signatures, imposes an undue burden on the people’s constitutional right to initiate legislation,” argues CMV’s court petition.
CMV also argues the Senate district requirement, along with the provision allowing the removal of signatures after the deadline to submit them to the state violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, favoring opponents by granting them an “effective veto,” because initiative backers cannot know whether they have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot until it is too late to solicit additional signatures.
Additionally, they say many of the requests to remove signatures were submitted illegally, claiming that a “plain language” reading of the statute requires voters to submit their signature removal to a county clerk personally. Opponents of CMV collected and turned in the vast majority of the signature removals instead of the voters. The court filing argues if a voter personally submits or mails their request for signature removal, it should be valid. However, the bulk collection and submission of signatures should be illegal.
Friday is the deadline for CMV to file their appeal. If the Supreme Court finds the signature removal provision to be unconstitutional, or if they rule signature removal requests must be delivered personally by the voter, then CMV argues they qualify for the ballot.