Signatures on Nebraska medical cannabis petitions to get a second look

Signatures on Nebraska medical cannabis petitions to get another look

Secretary of State’s Office predicts the two will still lack sufficient signatures; advocate not so sure

by Paul Hammel, Nebraska Examiner

LINCOLN — The Nebraska Secretary of State’s Office has agreed to take another look at signatures submitted by a group seeking legalization of medical marijuana to determine if they should have been counted.

But the office says that even with a second look, its declaration remains that the initiative petition drive by Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana fell short of the requirements to qualify for a spot on the November ballot.

“The determination regarding the legal sufficiency of the petitions provided on Monday … still stands,” said Colleen Bydick, an attorney with the Secretary of State’s Office, in an email Wednesday to Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana.

Drive already deemed a failure

On Monday, the Secretary of State’s Office announced that the two petitions submitted by the marijuana group had each fallen about 9,000 signatures short of submitting the required 86,776 signatures of registered voters. They were declared to have failed another requirement — to submit signatures from at least 5% of registered voters in 38 of the state’s 93 counties.

Meetings and discussions over the past two days led to an agreement Wednesday that another look would be given to some signatures that had been disqualified, according to Crista Eggers, the campaign coordinator for Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana.

“After analyzing the data from the Secretary of State’s Office, it came to our attention that not all the signatures have been put through the complete validation process.” Eggers said. “We believe that it’s essential that every signature from every Nebraskan be counted.”

She was less sure that the reconsideration would reverse the failure of the petition drive.

‘Outcome … unknown’

“What the outcome is, that remains unknown,” she said.

Eggers said her group appreciates that the Secretary of State’s Office is willing to take another look and that “there’s no pointing fingers.”

Messages left Wednesday evening with officials in the Secretary of State’s Office officials were not immediately returned.

The email obtained by the Examiner made it clear the office was under no legal obligation to take another look and that even in doing so, the medical marijuana group would likely fall short.

It’s unclear exactly how many signatures are being reconsidered. But requests by the Examiner to get a detailed explanation of why signatures were disqualified had not produced a result. A spokeswoman from the Secretary of State’s Office said Tuesday such data would be provided soon.

Ever since Monday’s announce that the medical marijuana effort had failed, advocates for cannabis have been digging into data as to why about 21,000 of the 98,000 signatures submitted for each of the two petitions had not been counted.

Not unusual for signatures to be tossed

It’s not unusual for a percentage of signatures on such initiative petitions to be thrown out — in fact, petition organizers regularly try to submit thousands more signatures than needed because of that. Signers must be registered voters and must sign petitions intended for the county in which they live. There are also requirements for circulators that must be followed, and each petition must be notarized.

It’s also not unusual to see lawsuits filed after petitions for ballot issues are submitted.

Two years ago, after the Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana turned in more than enough signatures to qualify a legalization vote for the 2020 ballot, opponents of medical marijuana filed a lawsuit. It resulted in a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling that tossed the measure off the ballot because, the court ruled, it violated the state’s “single subject” rule for such initiatives.

Just how quickly the Secretary of State’s Office can complete a second look at the medical marijuana petitions is unclear. The office is also currently validating signatures for two other initiatives: one to raise the state’s minimum wage and another to require identification at a polling place before being allowed to vote.

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