Monday, September 18, 2006

Nebraska Humane Care Amendment Being Starved by Bureaucrats?

The steps to put the Humane Care Amendment on the Nebraska state ballot this November had all been taken. Everyone thought it was a done deal. However, a couple of weeks ago, the Amendment was denied a place on the ballot because Nebraska bureaucrats decided, in a highly controversial action, to deny outright the validity of a large number of the signatures acquired during the petition process...and to refuse consideration of thousands of "extra" signatures already obtained.

Efforts since then to remedy the supposed problem and restore the Amendment to the ballot have met with concerted obstruction from election officials. The following is a press release summarizing the situation as of noon today (Monday). It is also a call for Secretary of State John Gale to do the right thing by Nebraska law.


LINCOLN, NE -- Supporters of the proposed Humane Care Amendment to the Nebraska constitution today implored Secretary of State John A. Gale to act immediately to prevent fraud against the citizens and ensure election integrity by fixing errors of his staff that will deny voters a 2006 opportunity to consider the pro-life measure.

At a press conference today on the Capitol steps, Humane Care spokesperson Heidi Verougstraete said, “Secretary Gale says the state initiative process is broken. After reviewing the work of one of his staffers, we fully agree. We call upon Secretary Gale to act now, while time yet remains, to fix errors by his people that threaten to disenfranchise the citizens of Nebraska for 2006. To err is human and forgiveable; to leave these official matters uncorrected would be a blatant assault on Nebraska’s constitutional right of citizen initiative by those who are duty-bound to uphold it.”

Until a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling just over a decade ago, ballot initiatives only required voter signatures equal to 10% of those voting in the last governor’s election. In a decision that overturned a statewide vote in favor of legislative term limits, however, the Supreme Court declared that a more burdensome 10% of “registered voters” is needed for ballot access.

As such, said Verougstraete, “Secretary Gale has a solemn constitutional duty to maintain an honest, accurate, and clean count of validly registered voters for purposes of determining this 10% ballot access figure. Unfortunately, serious errors of commission and omission by at least one individual within his office have artificially inflated the registered voter count and will soon deny voters their rightful say on Humane Care.”

Displaying a large stack of data printouts as evidence, she said, “The staff person to whom Secretary Gale has delegated the crucial job of certifying ballot initiatives, appears to us not to have performed the duties entrusted to him. For example, the official statewide voter registration count --10% of which Humane Care advocates must produce in the form of petitioner’s signatures -- is improperly inflated by double-counting at least 6,000 voters. The obvious effect of this is to make it more difficult for Nebraskans to exercise their constitutional right of ballot initiative.” (NOTE: The same double-counted names are available to press in an Excel file).

“Double-counting voters would be bad enough, but we have found instances where the bar against Nebraska democracy and Humane Care has been raised even higher by triple and quadruple counting certain voters in this so-called list of ‘registered voters’. Secretary Gale, if your people have included thousands of double and triple-counted people, dead people, and people who have moved to California, these are NOT proper and validly registered Nebraska voters -- and it would be unconscionable to use such a careless, unpurged count to prevent a 2006 vote on Humane Care,” Verougstraete said.

She continued, “Although the Legislature recently approved voting by Nebraskans with prior felony convictions, the admitted practice by staff at the Secretary of State’s office is to exclude ALL petition signers who show up on lists of felons, parolees, and citizens on probation. This resulted in over 1,900 Humane Care petition signers being invalidated upfront – before anyone in the Secretary of State’s office even checked to see if they were in fact registered voters! And yet, while excluding such petition signatures across the board, someone inside Mr. Gale’s office has failed to exclude such names from his official count of registered voters. Well, you can’t have it both ways!”

“Although the accuracy and validity of the official count of registered Nebraska voters has been handled in a careless way,” Verougstraete said, “government efforts to invalidate Humane Care signatures are demonstrably hyper-aggressive: We can now prove to Secretary Gale that THOUSANDS of validly registered Nebraska voters who signed Humane Care petitions had their signatures improperly invalidated. All along, from our July 7 submission date until now, I turns out that Humane Care supporters have had more than enough signatures to qualify for the 2006 ballot!”

The Humane Care Amendment aims to protect people from involuntary dehydration and starvation in Nebraska institutions, such as hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages and prisons. People who ask for the withholding of food and water in valid advance directives, such as living wills, are not subject to the measure’s protections.

Verougstraete also provided the press with copies of a letter delivered Saturday night to Gale’s home, during the Nebraska-USC football game. The letter, from Tom Mann, treasurer of Nebraskans for Humane Care, and Ann Marie Bowen, president of Nebraskans United for Life, said: “Our fellow citizens are being involuntarily dehydrated and starved to death in Nebraska institutions. Nebraska physicians have verified this fact to us.” They continued, “Humane Care in Nebraska is an enormous public policy question. For example, the National Right to Life Committee and Nebraskans United for Life have already endorsed Humane Care. Opponents of Humane Care now include the pro-euthanasia Hemlock Society (re-dubbed ‘Compassion & Choices’).”

Likening staff decisions at the Secretary of State’s office to an irresponsible referee in a Nebraska vs. USC football game, Mann and Bowen wrote to Gale: “With plenty of time yet on the clock, your staff has already walked off the field and out of the stadium. With minutes to go, they intend to freeze the scoreboard and give the game to USC. And yet, YOU – not your staff -- are the referee appointed by the Nebraska constitution to ensure fair play. We are not asking you to tilt the playing field our way. Rather, we want you to do what you are charged to do, which is make every human effort to call the game fairly -- without permitting your staff to run down the clock -- and allow us to show you that Humane Care should indeed be a 2006 ballot question.

The letter concludes, “Mr. Gale, we respectfully implore you, in the name of our state constitution and in the name of God, meet with us Sunday evening or early Monday morning to let us to show you that Humane Care has in fact qualified for the 2006 ballot.” Verougstraete said neither Gale nor his staff had contacted her as of Monday noon.