S.L. City Council wants Move to Amend to get to voters
The Utah Supreme Court won't but the Salt Lake City Council might.
The state's high court on July 31 declined to impose an extraordinary writ that would have compelled Salt Lake City to put on the November ballot an initiative by a group called Move to Amend.
It would have asked voters to endorse or reject two statements:
1) Only human beings, not corporations, are endowed with constitutional rights.
2) Money is not speech, and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting free speech.
The justices said they would render an opinion later explaining why they declined the petition for the writ.
In arguments before the high court, Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County attorneys cited Utah law that says such initiatives must create law to be valid. Because the Move to Amend's initiative only asked questions, it did not qualify.
But the Salt Lake City Council on Tuesday looked ready to put Move to Amend's questions to voters. They just weren't sure how.
Neil Lindberg, the council's legal director, told its members they could pass an ordinance to allow such initiatives to go on the ballot. But even if they did, it couldn't go on the ballot this year because it would constitute a special municipal election, where such initiatives are disallowed.
If the council passes the ordinance, it's possible it could go on the 2013 ballot, although that's not a sure thing, either, Lindberg said.
However, he told the council that citizens could vote in other ways: by special mail-in ballots, by voting online, or voting by telephone.
The City Council will again address the matter at its Aug. 21 work session and could adopt an ordinance the same day.
Mike Wilson, a member of Move to Amend, said the group is glad the council is willing to work with the grassroots organization.
"But it's frustrating, because we can't exercise our legislative right." He faulted the Utah Legislature for constructing roadblocks to the constitutional right of the people to put initiatives before voters.
Wilson noted, however, that the recent setbacks will not stop Move to Amend from challenging what he called "corporate person-hood."
Move to Amend is active in 90 cities across the country. Their ultimate aim is to amend the Constitution in a bid to undo the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the 2010 case of Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. That opinion allows unlimited corporate and union spending on federal and state elections so long as it's not coordinated with candidate campaigns.
Lindberg told the council that any such surveys should be done well before election season to avoid confusion with mail-in ballots that are sanctioned by the Salt Lake County clerk for the November election.
"It's not an election. It can't be," he told the council. "As to the weight given to the results, that's a political question to be weighed by the council."
The survey could be set up to ensure an accurate count and prevent voter fraud, Lindberg said.