LINCOLN, NEBRASKA — After Secretary of State Bob Evnen agreed to review some unchecked petition signatures, and medical marijuana supporters kept a glimmer of hope for the November ballot.
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana campaign coordinator Crista Eggers said Thursday that petition organizers requested the additional review after researching the state’s signature verification process.
The information is made available by the Secretary of State’s Office. Following the announcement on Monday that the two petitions seeking medical marijuana legalization fell about 10,000 signatures short of the total number required before voters.
Eggers is unsure whether the new review will change the outcome. However, she stated that medical marijuana campaign leaders want to protect Nebraskans’ petition rights and ensure that the process is carried out correctly.
The Secretary of State’s Office did not respond to requests for information about the signature verification process or why some signatures were not validated.
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana collected approximately 98,000 signatures on each petition in July, providing an 11% margin of error over the 86,776 valid signatures required to qualify. According to the Secretary of State’s Office, election officials verified fewer than 78,000 signatures per petition.
The petitions also fell short of the required county distribution. One reached the 5% mark in 26 counties, while the other did so in 27. The Nebraska Constitution requires petitions to receive 5% support in 38 of the state’s 93 counties and meet the statewide signature requirement.
To certify the November ballot, the secretary of state must complete signature verification for the medical marijuana petitions and two others submitted by the July deadline by September 16.
The signature review is one of several efforts underway in Nebraska to legalize medical marijuana.
State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln and Sen. Jen Day of Omaha, two of the initiative’s co-sponsors, has announced plans to introduce bills on the subject during next year’s legislative session. Meanwhile, Eggers stated preparations for a new petition drive will begin in 2024.
After a lawsuit, the Nebraska Supreme Court determined the petition contained more than one subject. A petition to legalize medical marijuana was on the ballot in 2020.
To avoid the same fate, a medical marijuana advocacy group proposed two initiatives this year. The first would protect doctors and patients. In contrast, the second would protect private entities that produce and supply medical marijuana.
The two other petition campaigns vying for November ballot spots gathered sizeable signature pools. They were not expected to encounter the same obstacles as the medical marijuana initiative.
A petition to raise the state’s minimum wage received nearly 160,000 signatures from all 93 Nebraska counties, nearly double the 87,000 signatures required to qualify as a proposed law on the ballot.
A petition requiring voter identification received over 172,000 signatures from at least 58 counties. The petition for a constitutional amendment requires approximately 124,000 valid signatures.