|Opinion:||In re City of Eufaula Initiative Petition No. 3, 2022 OK CIV APP 29|
|Subject matter:||Statutory Interpretation|
|Date Decided:||July 21, 2022|
|Trial Court:||District Court of McIntosh County; Judge Hogan|
|Route to this Court:||Appeal from district court’s interpretation of municipal election statute 11 O.S. 2011, § 18-101 which determined that the statute required that only the pre-circulation copy of an initiative petition needs to be filed 120 days before the candidate filing date for the next municipal general election, and that the circulated and signed petition may be filed up to 90 days after that date|
|Facts:||On September 30, 2020, Proponent filed a pre-circulation copy of an initiative petition to the Eufaula City Clerk which sought a vote changing Eufaula’s statutory form of government. On December 21, 2020 Proponent filed the circulated form with the requisite signatures. On January 8, 2021 Contestant filed a protest to the initiative, citing that it was untimely filed because 11 O.S. 2011, § 18-101 required the circulated and signed petition be submitted 120 days before the candidate filing date for the next municipal election. The pre-circulation was undoubtedly submitted 120 days before the candidate filing, but the circulated and signed petition was not.|
The trial court ruled that the statute required that only the pre-circulation copy of an initiative petition needs to be filed 120 days before the candidate filing date. This decision was appealed.
|Standard of Review:||This is a question of statutory interpretation, which is a question of law subject to de novo review. Fraternal Order of Police, Bratcher.Miner Mem’l Lodge, Lodge No. 122 v. City of Norman, 2021 OK 20, ¶ 2. When reviewing a challenge to overturn an initiative, “[a]ny doubt as to the construction of pertinent provisions is resolved in favor of the initiative. The initiative power should not be crippled, avoided, or denied by technical construction by the courts.” In re Initiative Petition No. 426, State Question No. 810, 2020 OK 44, ¶ 4 (citing In re Initiative Petition No. 403, 2016 OK 1). Upon such protest, the Court must review the petition to ensure that it “complies with the parameters of the rights and restriction [as] established by the Oklahoma Constitution, legislative enactments and this Court’s jurisprudence.” Id. at ¶ 4.|
|Analysis:||The question presented was whether the deadline was satisfied with the filing of an unsigned, pre-circulation petition or if it required the filing of a petition that has been circulated and signed by the requisite number of qualified voters. The Court answered this question by appealing to the text in the statute and the statute’s history. The statute was amended in 1977 in which the legislature added two new articles to Title 11, of which Article 18 was the relevant article for this case. An initiative submission deadline was added, as well as a percentage of voters for the initiative. In 1984, the legislature made further changes which the Court determined were the deciding changes for the statute’s current interpretation.|
First, the percentage of voters requirement was removed, and the word “initiative” was added each time before the word petition. The Court reasoned that the purpose of the changes was for municipalities that were presented with petitions to change their form of government should procedurally follow Article 15, unless those procedures conflicted with a procedure in Article 18. The Court thought that because the 1984 legislature decided to delete the prior statutory requirement that the initial petition already be circulated and signed, it was clear that the procedures of Article 15 as to the timing of the filing of copies of the circulated and signed petition prevailed. Thus, only the pre-circulation copy needs to be submitted 120 days prior to the filing date for the next municipal election.
Contestant also argued that the amended pre-circulation petition was filed past the deadline because of insufficient ballot title name. But the Court rejected this argument because there was no statutory requirement that a ballot title be filed 120 days before the candidate filing date. The ballot title can be filed with the clerk prior no later than the time the signed copies of the petition are filed with the clerk. There was also no requirement that the petition be refiled because of improper form of the ballot title. It was the job of the attorney that must file a revised ballot title, not a revised petition. Thus the October 8 refiling was not required and the timely September 30th petition was timely and proper.
Thus the Court concluded that the legislature intended to harmonize the municipal initiative procedures with the general laws, thus the pre-circulation petition must be filed 120 days before the candidate filing date, and the signed petition can be submitted up to 90 days later.
|Vote:||3-0. Wiseman, P.J. and Fischer, C.J. (sitting by designation), Blackwell, J. (author) concur.|