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9th Circuit Upholds|Nevada Ballot Rules

(CN) - Nevada's requirements for getting initiatives and referendums on the ballot do not violate the U.S. Constitution, the 9th Circuit ruled Wednesday.

The PEST Committee, backer of a measure called Prevent Employers from Seizing Tips, joined two other citizen groups in a September 2008 lawsuit against the state. They argued that Nevada violated their constitutional rights with onerous ballot qualification requirements for initiatives and referendums.

Specifically, the groups objected to their opponents' ability to challenge initiatives before the measures had qualified for the ballot. Ten of the 15 initiatives filed in 2008 were challenged, though none qualified for the ballot.

They also took issue with the state's requirements that citizen groups limit each initiative and referendum to a single issue, describe the effect the measures would have if approved, and provide an affidavit stating that all collected signatures are of registered voters.

The PEST Committee, We the People and Citizens in Charge said the rules were not only vague and overbroad, but also discouraged free speech and amounted to prior restraint.

A federal judge sided with the state, and the three-judge appellate panel in San Francisco rejected the groups' appeal.

Judge Arthur R. Alarcon said the challenged provisions "advance Nevada's important interests in avoiding confusion, promoting informed decision-making, and preventing 'logrolling,'" referring to the practice of couching a potentially unpopular initiative behind a more popular façade.

The groups argued that the lower court should have used a stricter test, because the initiative rules allow powerful opponents to undermine citizens' ability to bring an issue before their fellow voters.

The three-judge appellate panel disagreed.

"The Nevada requirements are prerequisites to the circulation of initiative and referendum petitions," Judge Arthur R. Alarcon noted (original emphasis). "They do not implicate protections for core political speech because they do not directly affect or even involve one-on-one communications with voters."

Alarcon added that the PEST Committee failed to show that Nevada's initiative requirements had been "applied in a discriminatory manner." Thus, the lower court was right to use a more lenient test in determining that the rules serve the state's interests, the court concluded.

"The provisions represent a permissible regulation of the mechanics of the electoral process," Alarcon wrote. "They do not, in and of themselves, have the effect of limiting the overall quantum of speech available to the electorate."

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