Two proposed ballot questions thrown out
Jefferson City, MO – Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan has thrown out two proposed ballot questions that supporters had hoped to put to voters in November.
One would have proposed limits to the use of eminent domain, another would have put caps on spending by state government.
Carnahan says petitions were submitted in the wrong format, and state law requires automatic disqualification.
Both measures were sponsored by a group called Missourians in Charge, which spent more than $1.5 million to gather the signatures. That money came almost entirely from New York real estate developer Howard Rich, a property rights advocate.
State law requires petition signature pages to be sequentially numbered by county and to be rejected as insufficient by the secretary of state's office if they are not. It makes an exception only for clerical and technical errors.
For both the eminent domain and spending cap petitions, supporters turned in some stacks of papers that were not separated by county and properly numbered, said Carnahan spokeswoman Stacie Temple.
As a result, the secretary of state's office said it will not forward the petitions to local election officials to determine if they contain enough valid signatures from registered voters, and the measures will not be placed on the Nov. 7 ballot.
"We're not going to use taxpayer dollars to process a petition that state law clearly requires us to reject," Temple said.
Kansas City resident Patrick Tuohey, who coordinated the petition drive for both measures, said Thursday that he had not been notified by Carnahan that the petitions had been rejected. He declined to comment further, saying he needed to consult with an attorney about the group's next step. One option is to file a lawsuit challenging Carnahan's decision.
Missourians in Charge relied primarily on a company in Ludington, Mich. called National Voter Outreach to gather the petition signatures. Company president Susan Johnson confirmed Thursday that some of the petition pages were not in order. "We quite literally ran out of time to get the signatures in order," Johnson said.
The reason for the disorganization, she said, was that Carnahan's office originally had set a May 9 deadline a Tuesday to turn in petitions. Then after reviewing state law, Carnahan's office moved the deadline up to May 7, a Sunday. That change came in April, several weeks before the deadline.
Signature gatherers for Missourians in Charge had to scramble to finish their work and rushed into the secretary of state's office with their papers just 10 minutes before the deadline.
Johnson said she offered at the time to bring in crews the next day to finish tabulating the petitions or to pay the cost of the secretary of state's staff to do so. She said she even offered to pay a fine to fund the tabulating, but was turned down.
"I tried to make it right, and they declined any help," Johnson said. "It wasn't like I just dropped (the petitions) on them and tried to get away with something."
Temple said she wasn't personally aware of those offers. But "any discussions or offers are really irrelevant," she said, "because the law says all the petition signatures have to be turned in at one time by the deadline and they have to be sequentially numbered by county."
Four other initiative petition campaigns including a proposed tobacco tax on which National Voter Outreach also worked all managed to meet the deadline in the proper format, Temple said.
Both ballot measures backed by Missourians in Charge already have been challenged in court by opponents.
A Cole County judge ruled April 17 that the financial summary prepared by State Auditor Claire McCaskill's office for the eminent domain measure was "insufficient and unfair" and must be revised.
McCaskill submitted a slightly revised financial statement to Carnahan's office on May 4 just three days before the deadline for initiative petition signatures to be turned into the secretary of state's office. Consequently, all of the roughly 200,000 signatures for the eminent domain proposal were gathered on petitions printed with the old financial summary.
Carnahan cited that fact as an additional reason for rejecting the eminent domain petitions. She noted a state law prohibits insufficient financial summaries from being used for petitions.
A separate lawsuit also seeks to invalidate the financial summary and ballot title prepared for the spending cap amendment. A Cole County judge heard arguments on that lawsuit earlier this week and said he would rule Friday.
Four other proposed ballot questions are still being reviewed to see if they'll be on the ballot.