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RYH4K ballot issue opponents declare victory; supporters urge Kander to approve signatures

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Western District Court of Appeals in Missouri made a final ruling Friday on the case involving the Early Childhood Education and Health Amendment ballot measure promoted by Raise Your Hands for Kids (RYH4K).

In his ruling, Presiding Judge Alok Ahuja denied a motion to dismiss the case filed by RYH4K and the group’s chairwoman of the board, Erin Brower. Ahuja said that RHY4K’s contention that an application for transfer before the state Supreme Court was pending was false, and that “substantive proceedings were concluded within the 180-day limit” pursuant to state statute. However, Jane Dueker, who entered as the attorney of record for RYH4K on Tuesday, said that the motions for the district and the Supreme Court were simply entered at the same time.

The Early Childhood Education and Health Amendment would have raised the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products to fund early childhood education efforts across the state. The ballot issue made it onto the November ballot after Secretary of State Jason Kander approved of both the language in the initiative petition’s summary statement and the 330,000+ signatures when the petition was submitted. The actual litigation involved a cigarette seller named Jim Boeving alleging that the ballot title was misleading and unfair.

Ahuja and the Western District Court of Appeals ruled in Boeving’s favor last Friday and the Supreme Court rejected a transfer of the case by Kander Wednesday.

Chuck Hatfield, Boeving’s attorney, said that RYH4K had an opportunity to fix the language before circulating the petition for signatures, but they failed to do so.

“Raise Your Hand For Kids could have cleared this up much earlier before they circulated their petitions, but they chose not to get these issues addressed and they took a big legal risk, and now the courts have ruled against them,” he said in a statement.

Because of the court’s ruling, RYH4K seems to be out of legal options, and their ballot measure faces the possibility that petition will be stricken from the ballot entirely. Kander will ultimately determine whether or not he will certify the ballot measure should the signatures collected be fully verified. Hatfield pointed to this statute as proof that it should be taken off the ballot.

Ron Leone

“This final order clears the way for the Secretary of State to follow very clear state law, which says ‘signatures shall not be counted if the official ballot title is not affixed to the page containing such signatures,’” he said. “The petitions no longer have an official ballot title and the law is crystal clear that they shall not be counted.”

Ron Leone, the executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, has been an outspoken opponent against the IP and the ballot measure due to a rival petition championed by his group that would also raise taxes on tobacco products. His ballot measure, however, would fund transportation infrastructure improvements. He agreed that the decision should put the ballot issue to rest.

“Missouri courts have spoken clearly and forcefully and with finality,” Leone said. “Missouri law is clear: the Secretary of State cannot allow petitions that do not include an official ballot summary. Those petitions are legally invalid, because Big Tobacco chose not to tell voters the whole story from the start and because Big Tobacco has now lost in Missouri courts. Now, the Secretary of State is required by law to reject the flawed petitions.”

On the other hand, Dueker contends that nothing the Court of Appeals has ruled on would invalidate the signatures gathered by supporters of the petition. She says that there is no court order to invalidate them and that there is nothing in statute that would invalidate them because the court only changed the ballot title.

“The idea that somehow they get to say 330,000 signatures are gone… no one has said that,” Dueker said. “There is nothing out there that indicates a single signature is invalid. The counting is going on. I’m confident that we have submitted more than enough signatures in order to qualify for the ballot, and so I’m not sure how they can declare victory when all they did was changed the ballot title. They specifically refused to say one thing about the signatures.

Dueker has been a supporter of the measure and sits on the executive committee of the Missouri NAACP, who has also endorsed the measure.

Rep. Courtney Allen Curtis, D-Ferguson, called for Kander to certify the signatures, seeing the alternative as another example of voter disenfranchisement akin to the problems that plagued the St. Louis County elections in April.

“It is vital that this ballot measure come before the voters in this upcoming November election,” Curtis said. “It is the Secretary of State’s responsibility to follow these petitions through to the end, and this issue being left off the November ballot due to his error is unconscionable… It is time for Kander to step up, certify these signatures, and fulfill his role to the citizens of Missouri.”