Ten years ago, 15 initiative petitions were filed with the secretary of state’s office in the hopes of making it on the statewide ballot. This year, that number has skyrocketed to 330 and counting. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a first-term Republican and the state’s top election official, says the initiative petition process is getting out of hand. The time and resources spent on ballot summaries, signature verification, fiscal analysis and publication in the media go up every year along with the number of petitions. So he’s asking lawmakers to overhaul a process he says is being dominated by special interests, most notably by charging fees for filing initiative petitions and verifying signatures once they are collected. “Right now, we have individuals who are spending millions of dollars because they can’t get the laws that they want and they want to bypass the legislature,” Ashcroft said. “I think that’s inappropriate. We shouldn’t be subsidizing that with taxpayer dollars.”
But Ashcroft is running into an unusual coalition of opponents to his proposal — labor unions and their longtime nemesis, GOP mega donor Rex Sinquefield.
Both have turned to the ballot in recent years to enact or repeal legislation. And both see the proposed changes as an unconstitutional attempt to limit the ability of citizens to enact change in state government.
“When you go in to vote, we don’t charge a user fee, even though it costs so much to get the ballot ready and get the voting machine ready and find a place to have you go vote,” said Woody Cozad, a lobbyist who represents a number of groups financed by Sinquefield. “You don’t get a user fee. That’s a poll tax, and it’s unconstitutional. You cannot place a fee on a constitutionally guaranteed right.”