Sponsors of an effort to repeal a new state law say they were so rushed by Wyoming’s referendum deadline that they didn’t have time to count how many signatures they had collected on the petitions they submitted this week. “The referendum process needs to be changed,” said Jennifer Young, of Torrington, who was among those submitting petition signatures Tuesday, minutes before the deadline. “It’s designed for the people to fail and the legislators to not lose a bill they want.” Wyoming’s referendum process is among the most restrictive in the nation, meaning residents have little chance of reaching the statewide ballot with their cause, public policy advocates say. In the last 30 years, only one referendum on a new state law succeeded in making the general election ballot. It failed at the polls.
In the latest attempt, the Wyoming Constitution Party is leading an effort to repeal a new law that redefines the state superintendent of public instruction’s powers and duties, mainly by replacing the superintendent as head of the state Education Department with a director appointed by the governor.
In order for the effort to succeed, Young and other sponsors of the drive had 90 days to collect 37,606 valid signatures, or 15 percent of the votes cast in the 2012 general election. In addition, the signatures they collected must represent 15 percent of those residing in at least two-thirds of the state’s 23 counties _ a provision that forces petition circulators to collect signatures in rural areas of the state and not just in the most populous cities like Cheyenne and Casper.
Dan Neal, director of the Equality State Policy Center in Casper, said Wyoming is one of the most difficult states for an initiative or referendum to succeed.
“The signature requirement seems OK, but the fact that you need to get it from so many parts of state really makes it nearly impossible,” Neal said.
Also, the 90-day timeline is reduced because the secretary of state’s office must certify and print the petitions. The 90-day clock started ticking when the Legislature adjourned on Feb. 27 but the petitions weren’t ready for circulation until March 21.