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Mayhem Over Utah's Ballot Initiative Process

There is a very interesting conversation happening in the SLTribune about the recent history and status of the initiative process in Utah...

And add a couple points

  1. The initiative process must change

  2. Voters, know your power and get involved.

No more letting politics just happen to you. We need action. This was too close for comfort.

As they say, politics is not a spectator sport.

Article I of Utah’s Constitution makes it clear that voters are, in fact, co-equal with the Legislature when it comes to making laws: “All political power is inherent in the people … and they have a right to alter or reform their government as the public welfare may require.”

In 2002, the Utah Supreme Court struck down a portion of Utah’s initiative law that required supporters to meet signature thresholds in 20 of 29 counties, saying it put too heavy a burden on the proponents, made it too easy for opponents to knock initiatives off the ballot, and let rural counties with small populations trump the will of the majority of the state.

“Because of the fundamental nature of the right of initiative and its significance to the political power of registered voters of the state, the vitality of ensuring that the right is not effectively abrogated … is of paramount importance,” the court wrote.

Since then, the Legislature has made it even harder, leaving even less wiggle room by requiring a minimum number of signatures in 26 of 29 state Senate districts.

And the Legislature has made it much easier for opponents to get signatures removed.

For years, in order to get a signature removed, a voter had to submit a notarized form requesting the removal. That notary requirement changed in 2010 and opened the floodgates for opponents to go door-to-door in the counties with the smallest margin to torpedo the ballot measures, as we saw in recent weeks.

Gov. Gary Herbert, who signed that controversial 2010 law, now says the process is flawed and should be reassessed.

Count My Vote would have cemented into place a signature-gathering path to the primary ballot, and reduced the number of signatures required, while leaving the traditional caucus-convention system in place. It was popular with the public. Poll after poll going back years has consistently shown that two-thirds of the public supported it. There were millions of dollars spent pushing it forward, and you end up with a fringe group using dubious tactics to deprive Utahns of their constitutional right to the initiative.

It needs to stop.

Within the next two weeks, Count My Vote’s organizers will ask the Utah Supreme Court to weigh in. They will not only ask the court to make sure the signatures of those who willingly and legally signed the petitions are counted, they will challenge the constitutionality of the initiative law and removal process generally.

Counting the omitted signatures should be a no-brainer. But more fundamentally, the court should follow the long line of judicial precedent supporting the public’s access to an initiative process and strike down Utah’s law.

“Because the people’s right to directly legislate through initiative and referenda is sacrosanct and a fundamental right,” the Utah Supreme Court wrote in 2002, “Utah courts must defend it against encroachment.”

That is even more true today.

Salt Lake Tribune - Gehrke: The courts should strike down Utah’s flawed initiative law and restore a reasonable path for the people to change a law