More than 700,000 voter information pamphlets have already been printed and await distribution in Utah newspapers, and ballots in Weber, Utah, Davis and Iron counties are already printed, yet Merrill Cook still wants the Utah Supreme Court to change language on the ballots and pamphlets. He filed suit Wednesday toward that end.
As reported in the Deseret News previously, Cook, sponsor of the Initiative A term limits/runoff election petition, is upset over an "impartial" analysis on the initiative in the voter guide prepared by attorneys in the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel and how the initiative will be titled on ballots.The voter guide analysis questions several times the constitutionality of various parts of the initiative. The title on the ballot, also written by legislative attorneys, is broken into three sections.
Cook professes his initiative has only two parts - term limits and runoff elections - and listing more parts on the ballot will make it difficult for voters to decide to vote for the initiative. Cook says both the ballot title and pamphlet analysis unfairly and improperly bias voters against the initiative and the high court should provide immediate relief.
Legislative officials say that by law they must bring up legitimate constitutional questions in the voter guide - and have done so in previous ballot initiatives. They add that Cook's initiative actually has five sections and by trimming those to three for the ballot title they were trying to make the voters' decision simpler. They say their analysis is impartial and fair and the ballot title is as short as possible while still being informative.
Under Utah law, sponsors of citizen initiatives certified to the ballot can make a direct appeal to the Utah Supreme Court if they feel state officials have been unfair in writing the ballot title. Law is silent on appeals about voter information guide analysis language, legislative attorneys say, but Cook has included that complaint in his court suit as well.
Justices have set a Monday hearing on Cook's petition, but state elections officer Kelleen Leishman says the state has already spent about $100,000 in printing and distributing the 705,000 voter information pamphlets and most large counties have already printed their ballots in preparation for the Nov. 8 election.
"Salt Lake County has already printed and distributed many of their absentee ballots - people have already voted on the absentee ballots," which contain the title language Cook doesn't like, said Leishman. Weber, Utah, Davis and Iron county officials have already had the regular ballots printed, said Leishman, and presses are ready to roll on the other counties' ballots as well.
Cook says he's moved with all due speed in his complaints. The day after he was informed by Lt. Gov. Olene Walker of the ballot title language, he shot off a letter to her complaining about it and suggesting alternative language. "She did nothing about it but went ahead," Cook says.
After being informed about the analysis' statements about constitutional problems with the initiative, Cook sent another letter to Walker.
All were ignored, said Cook, "and so I had to go to court."