OMAHA, Neb., Nov. 10, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Today, US District Judge Joseph Bataillon struck down a portion of the Nebraska State Constitution requiring that signatures be gathered from across the state to place issues on the ballot by initiative petition, or referendum. The court held that Art III, Section 2 of the Nebraska Constitution violates the United States Constitution's 14th Amendment. The case was not decided squarely on 1st Amendment voting rights grounds, but the decision makes it clear that Nebraska's Constitutional provision was stricken because it dilutes the force of voter signatures in urban counties.
Kent Bernbeck, a resident of Douglas County, filed the lawsuit in 2013. He sued Secretary of State John Gale, the state official responsible for enforcing election laws. The court ruled in Bernbeck's favor. It issued an injunction to permanently enjoin Mr. Gale or his successor in office from requiring that future initiative or referendum petitions meet geographic voter distribution requirements before being placed on the ballot.
The state law restriction stricken down by the Court requires petition sponsors and circulators obtain signatures from at least 5% of the registered voters within at least 40% of Nebraska counties, regardless of population size.
Bernbeck's lawyers, Dave Domina and Megan Mikolajczyk of Omaha argued that the state law restriction violates First Amendment one-person one-vote requirements by requiring that at least 5% of votes from each of at least 40% of the State's counties approve a petition before it can reach the ballot.
Dave Domina explained, "This restriction places greater value on a single signature from one voter in a county with a small population than a single signature from a voter in urban Nebraska. 102 signatures would be 5% in Hitchcock County, 393 in Saline, and 16,082 in Douglas County. The math makes clear the inequality and disproportionality that renders the state constitutional provision in valid."
Domina noted that "the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Bush v Gore, which decided the 2000 presidential election in Florida provided key precedent for the decision today. That case prohibits a State from placing more value on one voter's voice than that of another."
Domina Law Group represented Mr. Bernbeck in a successful 2012 case that struck down residency limitations on initiative petition circulators.
SOURCE Domina Law Group