(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – One of the major backers of a proposed 2008 measure aimed at raising the bar on tax increases said today a court ruling upholding the right of Tea Party of Nevada candidate Scott Ashjian to remain on the ballot shows the need for more clarity in state election law.
Steve Martin, a former state Controller who is now running for state Treasurer, filed the Nevada Taxpayer Protection Act ballot measure two years ago to require a two-thirds vote for any subsequent ballot measure that would raise taxes.
After gathering 130,000 signatures, far more than needed to qualify for the 2008 ballot, the measure was challenged based on technical issues regarding the signature gathering process. The Nevada Supreme Court knocked the measure off the ballot after finding the backers failed to “substantially comply” with state election law.
In the Tea Party of Nevada case, in which Ashjian was challenged by an Independent American Party candidate, the same issue of substantial compliance was raised. But in a decision handed down Thursday, Carson City District Judge James Russell found that Ashjian was “substantially compliant” when he filed as a Tea Party of Nevada candidate for U.S. Senate and then after the fact changed his voter registration from Republican to the Tea Party of Nevada.
“The irony is you’ve got one individual who wins on the issue of substantial compliance, while we had 130,000 signatures of Nevada registered voters and we were found not to be in substantial compliance,” Martin said. “What is the definition of substantial compliance?”
Martin said the courts need to clarify the meaning of substantial compliance so future ballot efforts are not derailed as happened in 2008, when the wishes of 130,000 registered voters who signed the Taxpayer Protection Act were deprived of their right to vote on the measure.
Robert Uithoven, a political consultant who worked on the 2008 proposed initiative, said the Nevada Supreme Court will have to remove Ashjian from the ballot if the case is appealed and justices are to remain consistent with past decisions requiring strict adherence to the letter of the law.
“The will of the people and substantial compliance was clearly and overwhelmingly demonstrated in the case involving the Taxpayer Protection Act of 2008, though the Nevada Supreme Court ruled against both – essentially citing letter of the law,” said Uithoven, now the campaign manager for Sue Lowden’s U.S. Senate campaign.
“In the case of Ashjian, if appealed to the high court, the elected justices will either remain consistent with their previous rulings or give the voting public the most controversial ruling since the infamous 2003 ruling in Guinn vs. Legislature.”
Las Vegas attorney Joel Hansen, who represented IAP U.S. Senate candidate Tim Fasano in his challenge of Ashjian, said he has yet to hear from his client on whether an appeal will be made to the Nevada Supreme Court.
Fasano today said he was just getting a chance to read Russell’s brief order before deciding whether to appeal.
Hansen said Russell’s ruling appears to be “out of line” with other Nevada court decisions regarding compliance with state election law.
Martin said he would like to see the Tea Party of Nevada case appealed to give the Supreme Court a chance to clarify the meaning of the term to help future ballot initiative efforts.
“I don’t think politics are involved,” Martin said. “I hope they take it to the Supreme Court so we can get some kind of ruling on what substantial compliance means.”