Court finds Big Tobacco’s ballot language unfair and misleading
By Andy Arnold
Earlier today, the Missouri Court of Appeals – Western District rendered a decision that could be the final straw that breaks Joe Camel’s back and keeps the Reynolds American backed Raise Your Hands for Kids (RYH4K) ballot measure to raise Missouri cigarette taxes by as much as $1.27 a pack off the November 8th ballot. Reynolds American, also known as RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company makers of Camel, Newport and Pall Mall Cigarettes, provided over $2.5 million for the RYH4K signature campaign and has recently committed another $5Million in funding to promote the ballot measure this fall.
The court rewrote the ballot title summary statement as it determined the ballot title summary written by the Missouri Secretary of State was “unfair, insufficient and likely to mislead voters.” RYH4K has until 4 p.m. Monday, July 11 to ask for a rehearing or transfer of the case to the Missouri Supreme Court.
Even if the court grants a rehearing or transfers the case to the Supreme Court, Missouri law puts a limitation on such litigation unless the court finds “good cause” for an extension. Section 116.190. 5. limits litigation on ballot measures to 180 days from the time the lawsuit contesting the ballot measure was filed, including appeals. That date is July 13, 2016, which is fast approaching. In other words, unless RYH4K can get the appeals court to reverse today’s ruling or get the case transferred to the Missouri Supreme Court and get a ruling before July 13, or get a “good cause” extension from the court, the law requires that the litigation “shall be extinguished”, making todays appeals court ruling final.
What does this mean for the RYH4K ballot measure if the appeals court decision stands? Missouri law prohibits the Missouri Secretary of State from accepting petitions where the official ballot title is not affixed. Section 116.120.1. states: “Signatures on petition pages that do not have the official ballot title affixed to the page shall not be counted as valid.” That means that all of the petitions that were turned in by RYH4K to Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander are null and void as they do not contain the official ballot title summary as was rewritten by today’s appeals court decision.
This is why circulating petitions for signature is risky when litigation is pending. If the court rules against you and you lose your appeal, you’re toast.