Organizers for the Count My Vote ballot initiative get their day in court on Wednesday as they go before the Utah Supreme Court to make their case for inclusion on November’s ballot.
CMV lost their bid to qualify for the ballot by a few hundred signatures after opponents, led by the Keep My Voice group, were able to convince enough Utahns to remove their names from the initiative to keep the initiative off the ballot. Count My Vote ultimately failed by approximately 600 signatures spread across 3 of the state’s 29 Senate districts. Utah law requires ballot initiatives to gather signatures equal to 10% of the most recent presidential vote in 26 of 29 Senate districts. Count My Vote gathered nearly 132,000 signatures total but fell short after the Keep My Voice group was able to remove 2,951 signatures total.
At issue in the CMV argument is the provision in Utah’s ballot initiative law allowing signators to remove their name before the proposal is certified. There’s a 30-day window after the signature gathering deadline for signature removal, with no chance for initiative backers to replace removed signatures.
“How can that be fair?” asks Count My Vote’s Rich McKeown. “It shouldn’t be easy to get on the ballot. We don’t want to be California. But, the way this is constructed right now, the deck is stacked against us.”
Count My Vote argues that the signature removal process is tilted against getting on the ballot, giving opponents the ability to target those who signed the petition, McKeown likened it to a “treasure map.”
“What we’ve seen is it might be impossible to get something on the ballot if there’s organized opposition to it,” says McKeown.
In fact, the medical cannabis initiative qualified for November’s vote by a slim margin after opponents mounted a last-ditch effort to keep the proposal from getting enough signatures. If the opposition had a few more days, they likely would have succeeded in getting enough signature removals filed. Two other initiatives, the independent redistricting proposal, and the Medicaid expansion effort, but neither faced an organized opposition effort. There were two other ballot initiatives that did not get the required signatures. Our Schools Now cut a deal with lawmakers while the Keep My Voice initiative failed to turn in any signatures, prompting backers to turn their attention to stopping Count My Vote.
One could argue Utah’s ballot initiative law worked just as lawmakers intended this year. Even though the right to legislate by petition initiative is guaranteed in Utah’s constitution, lawmakers jealously guard their power to make laws for the state. Lawmakers made it easier for Utahns to remove their signatures from initiatives in 2010, dropping a previous requirement that removal requests must be notarized. Count My Vote argues that the current process for signature removal is unconstitutional.