ACLU Challenges Nebraska Petition Laws That Keep Independent Candidates Off Ballot

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Maria Archuleta, ACLU, (212) 519-7808 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org
Laurel Marsh, ACLU Nebraska, (402) 476-2520

ACLU Challenges Nebraska Petition Laws That Keep Independent Candidates Off Ballot

Onerous Signature Requirements Violate Right to Political Speech

OMAHA, Neb. - Burdensome petition signature requirements unlawfully keep independent
candidates and ballot initiatives off the Nebraska ballot, according to
a lawsuit filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU
Nebraska. The lawsuit charges that the challenged signature
requirements limit political speech, violating Nebraska candidates' and
voters' free speech, equal protection and due process rights.

"Nebraska's onerous signature
requirements make it nearly impossible for independent candidates to
participate in the electoral process and for initiative campaigns to
get measures on the ballot," said Bryan Sells, an attorney with the
ACLU Voting Rights Project. "The requirements serve no real purpose
except to protect the existing parties from competition from candidates
with diverse political perspectives and to limit the options of
Nebraska voters."

In 2007 and 2008, the Nebraska
legislature enacted statutes that have made it much more difficult for
independent candidates and voter-driven ballot initiatives to get on
the Nebraska ballot. The statutes increased the number of petition
signatures required for independent candidates to get on the ballot
from 2,000 signatures to 4,000 - with at least 50 of those signatures
coming from at least one-third of Nebraska's counties. The statutes
also require all petition circulators to be residents of Nebraska and
that "Scarlet Letter" language be added to all petitions in large red
type, indicating whether the petition gatherers are paid or volunteer.

"It's hard not to see the
restrictions as a deliberate effort on the part of legislators to keep
independent candidates and grassroots initiatives off the ballot," said
Amy Miller, an attorney with ACLU Nebraska. "Reducing the pool of
petition circulators while doubling the number of signatures needed to
get on the ballot is meant to keep independent candidates from
disseminating their political views. And lacking the organizational
support of a party, many independent candidates and initiative
campaigns need to use paid circulators to gather signatures, but the
‘Scarlet Letter' language dissuades many voters from signing
petitions."

The lawsuit, Citizens in Charge Foundation, Inc., et al. v. Secretary of State of Nebraska John A. Gale,
was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska on
behalf of a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and
expanding the ballot initiative and referendum process, a Nebraska
voter who has gathered petition signatures for ballot initiatives in
Nebraska, and an individual aspirant to political office, who says the
requirements make it impossible for him to gather enough signatures to
appear on the Nebraska ballot as an independent candidate.

"These laws have served to muffle
Nebraskans' voices for far too long," said Paul Jacob, President of
Citizens in Charge, the non-profit organization represented by the ACLU
in the case. "We are hopeful that the court will open up Nebraska's
ballot initiative process and uphold people's right to petition their
government."

Attorneys on this case are Sells and Laughlin McDonald of the ACLU Voting Rights Project and Miller of ACLU Nebraska.

A copy of today's legal complaint is available at: www.aclu.org/voting-rights/citizens-charge-et-al-v-gale-complaint

More information about the ACLU Voting Rights Project is available at: www.votingrights.org

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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