Weeding out signatures

Comedian George Carlin joked in one of his nightclub routines that the reason marijuana had never been legalized was that tokers could never remember where they put the petitions.

Life imitated art this month, when supporters of a marijuana legalization initiative petition in Nevada neglected to turn in 6,000 of the Clark County signatures they’d gathered. The campaign said the error resulted from a box of petitions that disappeared and then somehow turned up again.

The blunder may not torpedo the proposed ballot measure, but it reduces the cushion of signatures needed to win ballot status. Initiative petitions can only be signed by registered voters. In Nevada, with its rapid population turnover, there is often a high rate of invalid signatures, so campaigns gather many more signatures than required to provide a cushion.

Because signatures are checked by the local voter registrars and county clerks, the petitions are submitted to the 17 local voter registration offices, not to the state Elections Office. So campaigns end up depending on 17 different people or groups to turn in the signatures.

The reaction to the fiasco from supporters of the petition was a mixture of laughter and tears.

“I heard about it in my car and couldn’t help laughing,” said one Reno backer, who also said she is also upset because the misstep plays into stereotypes of marijuana smokers.

A state court judge rejected an attempt to file the 6,000 signatures after the filing deadline.

Campaign spokesperson Billy Rogers of Las Vegas said he believes the petition drive will still qualify for the ballot.

“I think our chances are pretty good. We’re solid in 13 counties. Our Reno numbers are very good.”

He disputed a newspaper report that the margin of signatures turned in to Elko and Lyon counties was thin. “We already know we’ve qualified there. We’ve verified those signatures ourselves and know we’re qualified in those counties. … We verified every signature in the rural counties.”

Rogers says the signature gathering in the rural counties outpaced that for the Gibbons initiative petition that seeks to require the Nevada Legislature to decide school funding before any other part of the state budget.

Rogers also said he is certain that the disappearance and reappearance in his offices of a box of petitions that contained the 6,000 signatures was malicious.

"I don’t know if the signatures were misplaced or if someone [lost or] hid the box, but I do know that someone was acting maliciously. Someone out there knows what happened to that box for four days, and they’re not saying."