Last week’s rejection of the petitions to overturn the smoking ban has generated some discussion of what the petitioning process and situations that would lead to a petition being rejected.
The smoking ban petitions had nearly 10,000 signatures, 8,845 of which were found to be invalid, according to Secretary of State Chris Nelson.
Yankton County Auditor Paula Jones said the secretary of state’s office has a list of guidelines that each petition must follow.
“It tells you how to circulate a petition, what the requirements are, and obviously, if you believe in whatever it is you’re circulating the petition for, it is your responsibility to make certain you’re familiar with the rule and regulations that govern doing that,” she said. “I don’t think it’s at all an attempt to disenfranchise anyone, it’s simply there are certain regulations that over time have been developed because of, perhaps, recurring issues.”
Signatures are just one of several points that could lead to a petition’s rejection.
“When a petition is filed in our office, (the first) thing to check is are there enough signatures on the petition,” Jones said.
The next step is to check the signatures themselves.
“On the two lines where the petition signer fills in their name, address, county, date, they have to print their name, and they have to sign their name,” Jones said. “Should one of those be missing, we can not count (the page).”
However, the address line and county line can be filled in by the petition circulator, she said.
Cedar County Clerk Dave Dowling added, “When we’re verifying petitions for general election ballot issues, I would say the biggest problem we run across is we have signatures on there (from people) that are not registered voters, and do not live in the jurisdiction that they’re signing the petition in.”
According to the state guidelines, the person who circulated the petition must also sign and print their name on the back, and have it notarized.
“I’ve had petitions turned in where the circulator did not sign them,” Jones said. “If the timeframe allows, they can go back and have the circulator sign and have their signature notarized. And that’s basically just stating that they witnessed each person sign the petition.”
Jones said that most of the petitions Yankton County sees are circulated on behalf of people running for office, or the formation of a taxing district.
By contrast, some area Nebraska counties see far fewer petitions.
“I’ve been here 23 years, and I’ve never had a local issue petitioned on a ballot,” Dowling said.
In Nebraska, petitions are filed directly with the secretary of state’s office.
“We don’t deal with them on a local level until the state has had the petitions filed in their office, and then we verify only the signatures that come out of our county,” Dowling said.
Jones said most petition issues could be averted by double-checking them before submitting them to the county. She emphasized the importance of knowing the guidelines.
“Like everything else, when you pull up to a stop sign, you really are supposed to stop,” she said.
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