With the deadline for absentee ballots only a week away in Missouri there is not much time left for a Cole County Circuit Court Judge to make a ruling on whether or not New Approach Missouri collected enough signatures to place a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot. The group needed to collect a minimum of 32,337 signatures – which they had far surpassed until the Secretary of State’s office threw out over 10,000 signatures on the grounds that they did not match the registered voter information on file in some way – the address was wrong, they listed the wrong county or a signature that didn’t quite match the one on file. They only need an additional 2,242 more valid signatures in order to qualify for the ballot.
Loretta Haggard, attorney for New Approach Missouri, told Judge Daniel Green that thousands of those signatures should not have been disqualified – and with plenty of good reasoning. For one, the ballot initiative process is not something that everyone is familiar with – so they would not think twice about ensuring that their signature was perfect or they had written the right address or put down the right county. Also, the way the counties are divided up many people are uncertain of which county they are registered to vote in. Not to mention the fact that many medical marijuana supporters are patients with nervous system and muscular conditions that can make signing their name difficult.
“Jurisdiction lines often divide up these voters,” attorney Brad Ketcher, who is the treasurer for New Approach Missouri’s campaign, told The Associated Press after court. “But the bottom line is these are registered voters. We shouldn’t leave them behind.”
The group had asked the judge to accept an additional 170 petitions, which would be just over 2,000 more signatures. Attorney for the prosecution, Marc Ellinger, says that the judge shouldn’t bother with those as they would still be 23 signatures short of making the ballot – however New Approach Missouri was able to find 144 more petitions with what would be valid signatures on them; but Ellinger doesn’t want to see those counted since they were asked to be included after an evidence gathering deadline had passed.
Campaign manager for New Approach Missouri, John Payne, is hopeful that the signatures will be included – even mentioning that some of the signatures on these petitions will be duplicates and wouldn’t count. However, including these petitions would likely put them over the mark for needed signatures if only just by a hair. Court proceedings were expected to continue Tuesday – and so far Judge Green has not made any indication on whether or not he plans to rule in favor of the campaign or those in the state trying to keep their initiative off the ballot; actually he hasn’t even given an indication that he will make a ruling prior to the September 27th deadline for the initiative’s inclusion on the November ballot.
The fight is still going strong in Missouri – on the first day of court there were veterans, cancer patients and survivors, and parents of children with debilitating conditions all hoping to sway the judge in favor of allowing the initiative a place on the ballot. Within the week we should know whether or not the judge agrees that leaving off signatures of legally registered voters is unconstitutional if they simply put the wrong address or signed their name too fast – or if he believes the Secretary of State’s office made the right call in invalidating over 10,000 signatures.