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Appeals court reinstates Nebraska’s 38-county signature requirement

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Appeals court reinstates Nebraska’s 38-county signature requirement

Jul 06, 2022 | 6:41 pm ET
By Aaron Sanderford
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Appeals court reinstates Nebraska’s 38-county signature requirement
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People wait to hear from Gov. Pete Ricketts and State Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston about a petition drive to require people voting in Nebraska to provide a state-issued ID card. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

OMAHA — Petition circulators turning in signatures Thursday to get on Nebraska’s general election ballot this fall will need signatures from 5% of registered voters in 38 of the state’s 93 counties.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday temporarily lifted a lower court’s injunction that briefly prohibited the State of Nebraska from enforcing its 38-county signature requirement.

For now, organizers of this year’s highest-profile petition drives — for medical marijuana, a higher minimum wage and voter ID — have to make sure their signatures meet the reinstated requirement, Attorney General Doug Peterson’s office said.

U.S. District Judge John Gerrard issued an injunction in June siding with a lawsuit by Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, which questioned the constitutionality of assigning different values to voter signatures from different parts of the state. 

Gerrard’s injunction hinted at the medical marijuana lawsuit’s likelihood of successfully suing the state. 

The lower court still has to consider the lawsuit as a whole. The appeals court’s decision means Nebraska’s requirement stays in place while the lawsuit proceeds. It is possible that the court could rule against the requirement and qualify a petition that fails to meet the geographic requirement.

Crista Eggers, who helped lead the medical marijuana petition drive, has argued that the state’s geographic signature requirement values people in the state’s urban and suburban counties less than Nebraskans who live in rural counties.

Asked about the court’s decision Wednesday and whether the group had met the geographic requirement, she said her only concern for the next 24 hours was collecting more signatures. 

“We are continuing to pull signatures in from all across the state,” Eggers said, declining to share details about where and about whether the petition drive might come up short. “It is so fluid right now.”

Jane Seu, an attorney for ACLU Nebraska, which sued on behalf of the medical marijuana petition’s organizers, said, “Today’s decision is a setback but not the end of our case. … At every turn, state officials have tried to maintain the unconstitutional multi-county distribution requirement, but the constitutional standards clearly favor our clients.”

State Sen. Julie Slama of Dunbar, who has helped lead the effort to require Nebraskans to present a picture ID to vote, said her group is confident it will have the signatures needed.

“Today’s ruling does not impact Citizens for Voter ID’s petition drive,” she said. “Voter ID has received more than enough support from Nebraskans to qualify for November’s ballot.” 

Kate Wolfe, campaign manager for Raise the Wage Nebraska, said her group will have enough signatures from enough of the right places to make the fall ballot. 

The group wants Nebraskans to vote on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026. The measure would then index future minimum wage increases to increases in the cost of living. 

“Our campaign believes that we have met all of the necessary requirements to submit our petitions to the secretary of state tomorrow,” Wolfe said Wednesday.

Nebraska Examiner reporter Cindy Gonzalez contributed to this report.