Carnahan challenged on signature counts

They kept their promises.

Several groups who think Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan also should have certified their initiative petitions for the Nov. 6 election ballot filed two lawsuits this week in Cole County circuit court, seeking orders requiring Carnahan to put their issues on the ballot for a statewide vote.

In order to get an initiative petition placed on Missouri’s ballot, supporters must submit valid signatures from registered voters equal to at least 5 percent of the 2008 vote for governor, in at least six of the nine congressional districts that Missouri’s had for the last decade.

Carnahan said Aug. 7 that a petition seeking to raise Missouri’s tobacco taxes had gathered enough signatures to be considered by voters in November.

But, she said, the petition proposing an increase in the state’s minimum wage qualified in only four of six districts — falling short by 1,601 signatures total, St. Louis attorney Christopher N. Grant said in a 14-page lawsuit.

The petition proposing to cap loans from “payday loan” companies and others at a 36 percent interest rate qualified in only five of the needed six districts — falling short by 270 signatures, Grant said in a separate suit that also covers 14 pages.

“The Secretary of State and/or the local election authorities in the First Congressional District incorrectly failed to count valid signatures on the Initiative Petition of many legal voters that ... should have been counted,” Grant wrote in both suits, adding the Third District to his complaint about the minimum wage petition.

Both districts cover parts of the St. Louis area.

After petitions are submitted to the secretary of state no later than the first Sunday in May, copies of the signature pages are sent to the local election authorities in the counties identified on each signature page.

The local officials then compare the names, addresses and signatures on the copies with their official registration lists, and report an official count back to the secretary of state’s office for the final certification.

In both lawsuits, the groups supporting the two petitions say the local election authorities “failed to count and invalidated signatures of many legal voters because the Secretary of State sent those local election authorities pages of the petition that were designated for another local election authority. These persons were legal voters in the county named in the upper right hand corner of (each page of) the petition, and their signatures would have been counted if the pages had been sent to the correct local election authority. ...

“The Secretary of State mistakenly failed to include them in the count.”

State law also requires people who circulate petitions to meet certain legal requirements, including registering with the secretary of state — and says officials won’t count the names appearing on any petition page where the circulator didn’t meet those requirements.

But, both lawsuits argue, Carnahan’s “decision not to count signatures of legal voters collected by persons who allegedly did not properly register ... is incorrect, not required by statute, and is arbitrary and capricious. The Secretary of State is obligated to count the above signatures that were invalidated by mistake or due to issues relating to circulator registration.”

The lawsuits also challenge the constitutionality of the law that prohibits counting voters’ signatures if the petition circulator wasn’t registered properly “because they condition the validity of signatures, which can be otherwise verified, on the actions of another and/or impose an undue burden on the right of the initiative petition.”

In addition, both lawsuits argue the circulator registration process also violates the Constitution because it requires them “to disclose whether they are being paid, which discourages participation in the initiative process without sufficient cause.”

The minimum wage petition case was assigned to Circuit Judge Jon Beetem, while the payday loans petition case was assigned to Judge Patricia Joyce.

Since they raise similar arguments, they could be combined onto one judge’s docket, or they could remain separate.

No date has been set in Beetem’s case, but Joyce scheduled a 1:30 p.m. hearing Monday in the payday loans case.

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