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Ballot Initiative Requirements Challenged as Unconstitutional

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Tuesday, May 17, 2022   

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging Nebraska's requirements for voter-led initiatives and referendums to qualify for a statewide ballot.

Currently, campaigns must collect signatures from at least 5% of voters in 38 of the state's 93 counties to qualify.

Daniel Gutman - a contract attorney for the ACLU of Nebraska - is leading the litigation. He said the requirement is unconstitutional because it dilutes the vote.

"Nebraska is a geographically diverse state," said Gutman. "And when you require 5% of the registered voters from 38 arbitrary counties, what you're doing is you're placing value and power on some people's vote over others."

Gutman noted that campaigns must collect 17,000 signatures in highly populated Douglas County, but the same campaign needs to collect just 17 signatures in Arthur County, with an estimated 337 registered voters.

Courts have struck down similar requirements in other states, who argued that geographical requirements were necessary to ensure that rural voters were not overpowered by urban populations.

Crista Eggers is a plaintiff in the case and leads a ballot campaign for Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana.

Her doctor told her that in order for her seven-year-old son to receive effective treatment for epilepsy, she would have to leave the state, or convince lawmakers to legalize medical cannabis. She said after an eight year struggle, she believes taking the issue to voters is the only way to change the law.

"But this is something that we're also fighting," said Eggers, "so that those who are fighting just as important issues in the future - that this is something that we take a look at - at whether this process is hindering and diluting the voice and the vote of Nebraska voters."

Gutman said there are other ways to ensure that rural and urban areas get an equal say on ballot measures. For example, other states require an equal number of qualified voter signatures from each of the state's equally populated federal Congressional districts.

"States do want input from people around the state in order to put an initiative or referendum on the ballot," said Gutman. "And that's not what we're challenging, actually; we don't necessarily disagree with that."


Disclosure: ACLU of Nebraska contributes to our fund for reporting on Civil Rights, Criminal Justice, Immigrant Issues, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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