A pair of challenges to constitutional amendments approved in August by voters highlight the narrow window of time to take exception with a ballot issue’s language.
State law gave opponents of the gun rights and right to farm amendments 10 days, last year, to challenge the ballot language for those, once they had been certified by the secretary of state.
Attorney Chuck Hatfield, representing the opponents of those amendments, tells the state Supreme Court that isn’t enough.
“That’s not just, and it is not consistent with the overall framework that allows review,” Hatfield told the court.
He represents St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson and gun control activists who say the ballot language for the gun rights amendment mislead voters by leaving out some of the things it would do. The case they filed to challenge the ballot summary was rejected by courts last year because it was too close to the time of the election to order changes.
Hatfield told the high court he’s still not happy about that.
“If this court gets to the substantive issue and decides that our position is wrong, so be it. We understand that completely. But, it is unfair, it violates the fundamental concept of open courts, and the fundamental concept of checks and balances to deny my clients the opportunity to ever have this summary statement reviewed,” Hatfield argued.
Challengers to both amendments claim that the language voters saw on the August ballots was misleading, and say that constitutes an election irregularity; the same as if, for example, the number of votes cast would exceed the number of registered voters in a given district. The remedy for such an irregularity would be to have the result of the election invalidated and to send the issues back to voters.
Attorneys defending those issues say their ballot summaries were not misleading or inadequate, and further argue that the law that defines election irregularities does not apply to ballot language.
Senator Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia), who sponsored the gun rights amendment when it was in the legislature, argued that for the court to side with his opponents would be to set off a potentially endless series of challenges.
“If literally any complaint of election law that you could make somehow translates into a post-election irregularity, floodgates are going to open,” argued Schaefer. “Somebody’s going to say, ‘Well, one guy stood too close to a polling place. I want a million voters disenfranchised.’ That’s absurd, and the Court is much smarter than that.”
Schaefer also argues that the challengers have been given the opportunity to, but have failed to, prove that any voters were confused by the ballot summaries. His opponents say they don’t need to.
The Court could act on the cases at any time.