Judge Prevents Nebraska From Enforcing 5%, 38 County Requirement On Initiative Petitions


     A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction preventing Nebraska election officials from enforcing a requirement that initiative petitions must have signatures from at least 5% of registered voters in 38 counties to qualify for the ballot.

    The ACLU of Nebraska brought the challenge on behalf of Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, which is trying to put a pair of measures legalizing medical pot on the ballot this November.

     The challenge argues that the county requirement in the Nebraska Constitution violates U-S Supreme Court “one man one vote” rulings and equal protection provisions of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

      The 5% provision is intended to make sure initiatives and referendums have statewide support instead of being able to meet the overall signature requirement by focusing on just a handful of the most populated counties.

    The challengers argue that the requirement violates free speech and equal protection rights because it’s easier to get 5% of a county’s registered voters in sparsely populated counties, making signatures of those voters more valuable than others.

    They say that, for signature gathering purposes, one voter in Arthur County – with less than 500 residents – is equal to 1,216 in Douglas County, which includes Omaha.

   The ACLU says similar multi-county signature distribution requirements in other states have been struck down as violating the 14th Amendment, with the ACLU saying it will pursue the Nebraska case to its conclusion.

     The Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana campaign needs about 87,000 valid signatures on each of its measures by July 7 to make the November ballot. 

      The campaign started strong, but the death of one of its biggest donors forced a switch from paid circulators to volunteers – slowing the effort. Still, leaders say they’ve gathered over 80,000 for each so far.