Judge reviews Angle tax petition challenge
September 9, 2008
Washoe Judge Charles McGee plans to rule from the bench today on whether Sharron Angle’s Proposition 13 petition qualifies for the ballot.
The petition has been challenged by the Nevada State Teachers’ Association on grounds the people who circulated them failed to properly do the necessary paperwork properly.
But because of the crunch of deadlines for printing ballots, the question will almost certainly be on the ballot no matter what McGee rules. Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax said Monday he needs an answer by Wednesday to get ballots printed for citizens and troops overseas in time.
Matt Griffin, elections deputy for the secretary of state, said that office is directing clerks to include the question because McGee’s ruling will undoubtedly go to the Supreme Court and they won’t have an answer this week. If it is later thrown off the ballot by the Supreme Court, he said, clerks would be directed not to count those votes on election night.
And both sides agree no matter what McGee does, the decision will be appealed.
State law requires the total number of signatures be listed in the affidavit and that the signatures covered by each affidavit be permanently fixed together ” bound so that pages can’t be added by the proponents after paid circulators turn them in.
Mike Dyer, representing the teachers, said in his challenge of the petition that those packets of signatures were mostly held together with a spring clip that could easily be removed. That and the lack of a total number of signatures in each packet, he argued, mean more signatures could be added after the fact, improperly inflating the total number of signers.
He said the proponents need to show there are 40,364 valid signatures in Clark county to qualify. He said the petition qualified with 40,571 signers in Clark so, if he can show that just 208 signatures are invalid, it fails to qualify there. If 5,338 signatures are disqualified in Clark County, Dyer said the petition won’t qualify statewide.
The petition, set forth by former assemblywoman Angle, seeks to put California’s Proposition 13 ” the property-tax cutting amendment ” into Nevada’s constitution.
Joel Hansen, representing the proponents, argued the organizers substantially complied with the legal requirements. He said it meets the test identified by the Nevada Supreme Court opinion last week in deciding the case involving three petitions backed by Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. While the court ruled substantial compliance was the appropriate test, it threw those three petitions off the ballot for failing to meet that standard.
Hansen argued that how the packets are fixed together isn’t important since the clerks take them apart to count and scan them.
“We don’t have a fraud question,” he said. “We have a clerical question.”
Hansen said that, “even if we made a few mistakes, that’s still substantial compliance.”
But Lomax, Clark County registrar of voters, said they almost never take the packets of petitions apart. He said they almost always come permanently bound together, not with paper clips, rubber bands or binder clips like the Proposition 13 petitions did.
Lomax said checking the affidavits isn’t part of his job but that he did notice irregularities in how the Prop 13 petition affidavits were done and sent a letter noting that to the secretary of state’s office.
His deputy Donna Cardinelli said when the petitions originally arrived there were numerous copied signature pages in them. She allowed the proponents to remove those copies after being told they were accidentally put in and the originals left back at the office. Under questioning, she termed it sloppy work.
One of the packets introduced as evidence dropped from 154 to just 80 pages when the proponents removed the copied sheets, cutting the number of signatures from 580 to 260.
The packet also contained signatures gathered by three different circulators instead of one and, according to Dyer, the total signatures submitted by each were not totaled. The affidavit by one of those circulators showed a total of 15 pages, but, Dyer said, the final page was “page 29 of 15.”
He said he would show more irregularities today. But Hansen said the core of the problem was that lawmakers changed the rules in 2007 and he and others have been unable to get any guidance on how to conform to those rules from the secretary of state’s office.
McGee has said his plan is to rule form the bench when the hearing concludes today to get the issue before the Nevada Supreme Court as quickly as possible.
– Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.