Clerks asked petition organizers to delay turning in signatures | NevadaAppeal.com

Clerks asked petition organizers to delay turning in signatures

Organizers of three petition drives may very well have been disqualified by the Secretary of State’s office last week because they did Nevada’s county election officials a favor.

Several county clerks asked the petition groups to wait until after the Nov. 2 election to submit signatures that would qualify two separate anti-smoking petitions and the marijuana-legalization petition to be presented to the 2005 Legislature.

But the Nevada Attorney General’s Office ruled last week that waiting until after the November 2005 election dramatically increased the number of signatures each petition needed to qualify.

Nevada’s constitution requires that a petition have signatures from at least 10 percent of the number who voted in the “last general election” to qualify.

Had they submitted the signatures before Nov. 2, the “last general election” would have been in November 2002 and their 10 percent goal 51,337 signatures. All three initiatives would have qualified.

But many more voters went to the polls this year, and 10 percent of that total is 83,156 signatures. Fair or not, the Attorney General’s Office ruled the number of signatures needed to qualify the petitions jumped by more than 30,000 because the groups waited until after this year’s election.

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Carson City Clerk-Recorder Alan Glover said he’s pretty sure at least one of the groups waited because they were asked to.

“Basically, we begged them not to bring them in until after the election,” he said.

He said, by law, the petition organizers had another full week after the election to turn in their petitions, but once a petition is turned in to the clerk’s office, his staff has just four days to complete a raw count to submit to the Nevada Secretary of State.

“We could not have handled that with the election,” he said.

Clark County voter registrar Larry Lomax said he made the same request of at least one caller from organizers of the petition drives.

“We couldn’t have dealt with the petitions,” he said. “They would have had to sit here until after the election because we were just swamped.”

Both men said it’s their understanding at least one and possibly all three of the petitions could have been filed before the election, had they not made that request.

In addition, Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project in San Francisco said that as late as Nov. 19, Secretary of State Dean Heller’s office was still telling his group the number of valid signatures needed was 51,337.

But the Attorney General’s Office last week advised Heller’s office not to certify the three petitions, saying its interpretation of the law is that “last general election” means exactly that, whether it was held two years or two days ago.

The Marijuana Policy Project has threatened to sue over the issue, saying the state basically changed the rules at the last minute when there was no way to comply.

Glover, head of the Nevada Clerk’s Association, said it wasn’t just him and Lomax, that “several of us begged them” to delay submitting the petitions until after the election so their offices could handle the signature-checking requirements.

No matter how the dispute is resolved, Glover said the law and possibly even Nevada’s constitution must be changed so that a similar situation doesn’t occur again.

Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at nevadaappeal@sbcglobal.net or 687-8750.