Petition law unconstitutional | NevadaAppeal.com

Petition law unconstitutional

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals won’t reconsider a two-year-old ruling that part of the state’s initiative petition law is unconstitutional.

The court on Friday affirmed its earlier decision that the so-called 13-county rule violates the constitutional principal of “one man, one vote.” That rule required petition signature gatherers not only to collect signatures totaling 10 percent of the number who voted in the previous general election but that they reach that percentage in at least 13 of Nevada’s 17 counties.

The group collecting signatures to put a question legalizing possession and use of small amounts of marijuana got the 10 percent in just 12 counties but failed in the remaining five. Citing that, Secretary of State Dean Heller invalidated their petition in 2004 and refused to put it on the ballot. The group sued in federal district court, which tossed out the 13-county rule.

The appellate court agreed with the district court that the 13-county rule unfairly deprives residents of densely populated areas such as Reno and Carson City of equal protection under the law because it allows a small number of voters in sparsely populated counties to override the wishes of the majority.

The ruling permanently enjoins Nevada and the secretary of state from applying the 13-county rule to future petition drives.

The appellate court also stated that the issue was not moot even though the election is two years in the past. The justices wrote that situation was very likely to come up again and therefore warrants a final ruling.

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The opinion issued Friday means instead of having to collect signatures statewide, groups seeking to put an initiative or referendum on the ballot can concentrate their efforts in Washoe and Clark counties without having to collect signatures in at least 13 counties.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.