The following editorial first appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star.
Some of those hailing the recent court ruling on initiative petition drives need to take a step back and take a more complete look at the potential impact.
Just because attorney David Domina, recently the Democratic nominee for U. S. Senate in Nebraska, was the winner in the case does not mean the ruling is a victory for those on the left side of the political spectrum.
And just because Democrats led the recent initiative petition drive that allowed Nebraska voters to raise the minimum wage does not mean that victories for other causes favored by Democrats, such as expansion of Medicaid, are the next obvious step.
There’s no doubt that the ruling from U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Bataillon will make it easier to collect signatures.
That gives just as much new opportunity to those on the right side of the political spectrum as those on the left.
In fact, Nebraska history shows that many of causes that energized petition drives came from the political right. Some of them were attempts to put spending lids in place, for example.
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And with the Citizens for United ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court allowing corporations to spend more freely in the political realm, the benefit from Bataillon’s ruling may flow most strongly to those on the right.
While signatures can be gathered by unpaid volunteers, they also can be collected by paid circulators. Efforts to prohibit paid circulators have been struck down by the courts around the country.
Bataillon’s ruling almost certainly would survive an appeal. He cited several other court rulings that followed the same line of reasoning he used in throwing out a requirement that had been in the State Constitution since 1912.
Prior to his ruling, those gathering signatures to put an issue on the ballot were required to gather 5 percent of the registered voters in 38 counties for an initiative to repeal a law, 7 percent to enact a law, and 10 percent to amend the constitution.
Now circulators can gather enough signature with a smaller effort that targets only a few counties.
Like other judges, Bataillon noted the county-based requirement gave more weight to rural voters. The plaintiff in the case, Kent Bernbeck of Omaha, argued that the 17 voters in Arthur County held power equal to 9,044 voters in Lancaster County. “The facts presented in this case show clearly that urban votes are diluted under the Nebraska Constitution," Bataillon wrote.
The ruling was a victory for direct democracy. Nebraskans have more power to sidestep or overrule the Legislature, for better or worse.