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Initiative petitions due for change

Nevada Appeal editorial board

Nevada’s initiative petition process seems destined for change, so lawmakers should be preparing legislation now that protects voters in its rural areas from being overwhelmed by Washoe and Clark counties.

U.S. Term Limits has filed suit challenging the state constitution’s requirement that petitions obtain signatures from 10 percent of the voters in at least 13 of Nevada’s 17 counties.

The group cites a recent federal appeals court ruling throwing out Idaho’s similar requirements and correctly concludes that Nevada’s probably won’t survive in court.

In a nutshell, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the requirement ends up giving votes in sparsely populated counties more weight than those in big cities. Under the one-man, one-vote concept, that can’t happen.

Still, there are good reasons to want to protect rural residents from petitions that would be detrimental to them while serving the interests of big-city dwellers. There should be some way to meet the intent of Nevada’s 13-county requirement while still satisfying the equal-protection rules of the constitution.

The 9th Circuit Court gave some insight into how such requirements might pass muster when it wrote in the Idaho ruling: “Idaho could achieve the same end through a geographic distribution requirement that does not violate equal protection, for example, by basing any such requirement on existing state legislative districts.”

Because legislative districts must be roughly comparable in population, some in Nevada are immense, such as District 35 covering White Pine, Eureka and Pershing counties and parts of Washoe, Humboldt, Churchill and Lander.

Like the Legislature itself, the distribution of petition signatures still would be weighted heavily toward Reno and Las Vegas, because that’s where the people are. Requirements tied to legislative districts would assure representation on such petitions from the far-flung reaches of the state.