The Nebraska Constitution guarantees that voters can use citizen-driven ballot measures to decide statewide policy questions. This initiative process has been a firmly established part of Nebraska governance for more than a century. But this year a shadowy group is trying to undermine the initiative process by sowing suspicion of it. Nebraskans, across lines of party or ideology, should be united in defending the initiative process and its proven value for the state.
An anonymous group has mailed postcards claiming that Nebraskans who sign petitions — providing their name, address and date of birth — are putting their personal information at risk. The group, which calls itself the Alliance for a Pure Life, has identified none of its members. It lists its address merely as a post office box in Norfolk. It has not filed with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.
The postcards specifically warn against petitions to legalize medical marijuana and casino gambling at racetracks, though its argument also could be used against the current petition drive to limit property taxes.
The state doesn’t post signers’ information online, Secretary of State Robert Evnen explains, though an individual or organization could obtain signature information by filing a public records request, since state law says the information is public record.
The postcards contain an outright falsehood by claiming that signers can be charged with a felony if the petition circulator fails to read to them all the language on the petition. In reality, the only criminal penalty against petition signers is if they sign someone else’s name or are not a registered voter.
The Nebraska Constitution, since 1912, has used clear, firm language in describing the centrality of citizens’ powers of initiative and referendum:
“The people reserve for themselves the power to propose laws and amendments to the Constitution and to enact or reject the same at the polls, independent of the Legislature, which power shall be called the power of initiative. The people also reserve power at their own option to approve or reject at the polls any act, item, section, or part of any act passed by the Legislature, which power shall be called the power of referendum.”
Any law enacted, amended or repealed by Nebraskans via ballot initiative can’t be overturned by the Legislature unless it has a super-majority — two-thirds of all state senators.
Citizens over the years have placed more than 60 petition-driven issues on statewide ballots. A series of federal court decisions has underscored that the initiative process is firmly embedded in Nebraska law and the state’s fundamental governing principles.
The point isn’t that every ballot proposal automatically deserves support. The point, rather, is that it’s important to respect and safeguard Nebraskans’ constitutional prerogatives to debate and make policy decisions.
For generations, Nebraska has used the initiative power to ensure the people’s ultimate control of government. Now, a nefarious attempt has arisen to short-circuit it. Voters should stand up and defend this key part of Nebraska government and tradition.