Anti-smoking group appeals petition rejection
December 28, 2004
The American Cancer Society and other backers of this year’s anti-smoking petition Tuesday argued the Nevada Secretary of State’s office was wrong to disqualify their initiative.
Attorney Bob Crowell filed a formal request for Secretary of State Dean Heller to reverse his denial of the petition saying it was unfair and a bad interpretation of the law and constitution.
The group collected signers for several months, submitting them to Heller’s office Nov. 9. Throughout that period, they were told by Heller’s office and county clerks they needed a total of 51,337 valid signatures to qualify their initiative for consideration by the Nevada Legislature.
But a month after they submitted the petitions, Heller declared they failed to gather enough names based on an attorney general’s opinion that added more than 30,000 signatures to the total required. The attorney general’s office ruled they had to collect 10 percent of the number of voters who turned out in November 2004 – 83,156 – rather than the 51,337 figure which is 10 percent of the turnout in November 2002.
The opinion was based on the constitutional mandate that initiatives bear 10 percent of the turnout in the “last general election.” The date of the “last general election” changed Nov. 2.
The difference is that the anti-smoking petition – as well as a second smoking restriction initiative and the proposal to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana – all collected more than 51,337 signatures but less than 83,156.
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Citing the attorney general’s opinion, Heller declared all three initiatives had failed.
Crowell said it was unfair to change the rules after they had submitted their petition signatures. He said petition organizers were entitled to rely on the advice they received from the secretary of state throughout the petition process. And that advice was consistently that they had until Nov. 9 and needed just 51,337 signatures.
He also pointed out that even though the election was held Nov. 2, this year’s election wasn’t certified by the official vote canvass until Nov. 23. Until that date, he argued, the election results weren’t official and, therefore, the 2002 numbers were still valid. He pointed out the anti-smoking petition was turned in Nov. 9 – well before the canvass.
Further, Crowell pointed out that at least two county election officials – Alan Glover in Carson City and Larry Lomax in Clark County – asked the petition drive organizers not to turn their signatures in until after the general election because they were too busy to count and check the signatures.
Crowell said for all those reasons, Heller should reverse his decision and declare the anti-smoking initiative qualified to be forwarded to the Nevada Legislature in February.
If Heller agrees, the same logic would undoubtedly apply to the second anti-smoking initiative and the marijuana petition. His office was reviewing the letter.
Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.