The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska (ACLU) and Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana (NMM) filed a federal lawsuit against the state last week stating Nebraska’s multicounty signature requirement to get an issue on a statewide ballot is unconstitutional.
Nebraska’s Constitution lays out that any referendum requires signatures from at least 5% of registered voters in 38 counties each.
The lawsuit claims the signature requirement violates the First and 14th Amendments of the US Constitution.
The ACLU believes the rule treats voters in each county differently which violates the one person, one vote principle protected under the 14th Amendment.
“Although each voter has equal say under the total vote count requirement, a voter in a high population county has significantly less power when it comes to meeting the multicounty distribution requirement,” the ACLU said in a press release.
They found that one signature from rural Arthur County has as much weight as 1,216 Douglas County signatures to meet the signature requirement.
Campaign coordinator for NMM Crista Eggers believes it inhibits free speech because it adds a burden of cost and complexity to bringing issues to a statewide ballot.
“This unconstitutional roadblock makes it so prohibitive [difficult] for Nebraskans without massive bank accounts to change our laws, even on incredibly popular issues like bringing access to medical cannabis to people who are suffering in Nebraska,” she said.
The lawsuit asks for an emergency injunction on the signature requirement meaning the signature requirement would temporarily be invalided to allow the NMM petitions to be on the 2022 statewide ballot in November.
The U.S Supreme Court did rule in 1969 (Moore v. Ogilvie) that a similar signature requirement in Illinois violated residents’ rights. Similar requirements have also been struck down by courts in Idaho, Utah and Wyoming.
The Nebraska assistant Secretary of State Cindi Allen released a statement saying the requirement has been in place for at least 100 years and the lawsuit was handed over to the Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson’s office to defend.
The Nebraska Attorney General’s office declined to comment.