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Editorial: Petitioners Get The Shaft

Las Vegas Sun; December 29, 2004

In early November, shortly after Election Day, three groups circulating initiative petitions turned in their signatures to the Nevada secretary of state's office.

One of the petitions would legalize small amounts of marijuana and the other two would regulate smoking in public places. All of the petitions had well more than the 51,337 signatures that the secretary of state's office had told the groups would be necessary to get their initiative petitions before the Nevada Legislature in 2005. The 51,337 figure was arrived at by the secretary of state because, using a formula set out in the Nevada Constitution, it was 10 percent of the vote cast in the 2002 general election.

But a short time later, Secretary of State Dean Heller reversed himself, saying that the petitions actually required 10 percent of the votes cast in the 2004 election, because the signatures were turned in after Election Day. Therefore, Heller ruled, the petitions required 83,156 signatures instead.

The new figure ballooned because the 2004 election produced such a heavy turnout.

The net result was that none of the groups had collected enough signatures. Rubbing salt in the wound was the fact that some of the groups had been ready to turn their signatures in before Election Day but didn't because county election officials asked them not to since they were swamped preparing for the election.

It looks as if the courts will have to decide the issue now, as a coalition of health groups supporting one of the two nonsmoking petitions may appeal.

If fairness alone were to resolve this dispute, the groups would prevail because they were simply following the secretary of state's instructions. And while the groups did file their petitions after Election Day, common sense tells us that the preceding election was 2002, not 2004. After all, the clock began running on the initiative process, which includes signature gathering, well before Election Day 2004.

Furthermore, as the groups note, the election results weren't officially certified by the state until Nov. 23, which was two weeks after the signatures were due and were submitted.

There is no way the groups could have possibly known how many signatures were required until they knew what the turnout was -- truly a Catch-22. We're not great fans of the initiative process, and believe that many of these issues are best settled by the Legislature, but the bottom line is that Heller has changed the rules in the middle of the game, an injustice that we believe the courts should overturn.

(c) 2004 Las Vegas Sun, Inc

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Posted-by: Derek

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