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Lawsuit filed over Utah ballot initiative changes

Ballot Initiative.jpg
Posted at 2:59 PM, May 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-12 17:37:29-04

SALT LAKE CITY — A lawsuit has been filed challenging new laws regulating how ballot initiatives get before voters.

Steve Maxfield, Daniel Newby and Lori Newby, who have sued the state over citizen referendum and ballot initiative laws in the past, filed a new lawsuit against Governor Spencer Cox and Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson this week. They argue the Utah State Legislature's latest changes to the ballot initiative process chill their freedom of speech (under the law, the legislature cannot be sued so the governor is as a representative of the state).

House Bill 136, sponsored by Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, requires groups that pay people to gather signatures across the state to qualify an issue for the ballot to pay by the hour instead of per signature. Those paid signature gatherers must also wear a special badge that declares they are being paid to get someone to sign on.

In their lawsuit, Maxfield and the Newbys argue it's an unconstitutional violation of their free speech rights.

"Restricting the ability of initiative and referendum sponsors to pay petition circulators based on the number of signatures gathered imposes a severe burden on the ability of sponsors to engage in core political speech," the lawsuit, filed in federal court, states.

"Under Supreme Court precedent, individuals have the constitutional right to engage in anonymous speech, including in circulating petitions to fellow citizens," the lawsuit states. "Further, individuals have the right to be free from compelled governmental speech."

The Lt. Governor's Office, which oversees elections in Utah, said it had no comment on the new litigation.

In recent years, the legislature has run a number of bills regulating ballot initiatives after voters approved a series of them in 2018: Proposition 2 allowed medical cannabis, Proposition 3 approved Medicaid expansion and Proposition 4 created an independent redistricting commission.

Read the lawsuit here: