Payday loan lawsuit set for Sept. 5 trial; Minimum wage trial date not set yet

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CHECKING PETITION SIGNATURES against voting records to validate that the initiative petition campaigns to cap payday loans and increase Missouri’s minimum wage collected enough valid signatures to get the issues on the November ballot are (from left) Metropolitan Congregations United’s Barbara Paulus, SEIU Local 1 Vice President Nancy Cross, SEIU Local 1’s Ann Shuck and Jobs with Justice State Coordinator Lara Granich. – Labor Tribune photo

Jefferson City – Lawsuits filed on Aug. 15 to get two vital issues on the Nov. 6 ballot - one to impose a payday loan interest rate cap of 36 percent and the other to increase Missouri’s minimum wage by $1 an hour to $8.25 - cite numerous errors on behalf of the First and Third Congressional District election authority as well as several crucial errors by the Secretary of State, the most egregious being that petitions were sent to the wrong jurisdictions for checking.

Filing the lawsuits are:

Payday loan cap: Missourians for Responsible Lending seeks to validate at least 270 more signatures in the First Congressional District needed to get the payday loan cap proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot. The Labor Tribune has learned that a Sept. 5 trial date has been tentatively set.

Minimum wage boost: Give Missourians A Raise, joined by Missouri Jobs with Justice, seeks to validate 1,091 in the First Congressional District and another 510 signatures in the Third Congressional District to get the $1 increase in the state’s minimum wage on the Nov. 6 ballot. No trial date has been set.

Sept. 25 is the deadline for getting the issues on the ballot. Joining on both lawsuits are the Rev. Dr. Martin Rafanan and the Rev. James Bryan.

CHARGES

The lawsuits charge that the First and Third District election authority - the St. Louis City Election Board – made serious mistakes, citing a number of them as reasons for the Circuit Court here to overturn the Secretary of State’s (SofS) initial rejection of the ballot issues. (Editor’s note: the signature checking was subcontracted out.)

The charges are similar in both lawsuits. They include:

• Invalidating signatures even though there was a legitimate signature and the signer was registered to vote at the address indicated. The suit points out that the law allows that the names or addresses be “substantially similar to how they appear on the voting rolls” thus should not be invalidated just because of the presence or absence of a middle initial or an apartment number, or the substitution of a common name.

• Invalidating signatures of legal voters because the signer’s petition address was different from the voter rolls but within the same county; that the signer would have been allowed to vote in an election at the address listed on the petition because the signatures matched.

SURPRISING ERRORS

Then several surprise charges relating to errors by the SofS:

• Sent pages of signatures to the WRONG election authority, which of course invalidated those signatures since none were on that jurisdiction’s voting rolls.

• Invalidated signatures allegedly because the petition gatherer was not property registered even though the gatherers HAD registered.

• Incorrectly ruled that a number of petition gathers cited as not being properly registered were indeed registered but were registered to carry a sister ballot issue (minimum wage increase) and collected signatures on both simultaneously. As a result, the SofS’s office had the required registration data. As a result of this, the suit charges, the SofS’s decision to invalidate the gathers was “arbitrary and capricious.”

The lawsuits also challenge the constitutionality of several provisions of the Missouri Constitution on the basis that they “impose an undue burden on the right of initiative petition.” As an example, the lawsuit notes that petition circulators have to “disclose whether or not they are being paid, which discourages participating in the initiative petition process without sufficient cause.”

Concludes the lawsuits filings: “The Secretary of State is obligated to count the above signatures that were invalidated by mistake or due to issues relating to circulator registration. Accounting for these signatures, there are a sufficient number of valid signatures from legal voters” to quality the initiative petitions for the November 2012 ballot.

NOT THE FIRST TIME

This is not the first time that incorrect counting processes were reversed in Missouri elections.

At least four other initiative petitions in the last ten years were initially found to have fallen short of the required valid signature total, but later ordered onto the ballot by judges after a more thorough review found initial counts to be incorrect.

The law firm of Schuchat, Cook & Werner, filed the lawsuits.

Educational campaign to pass ballot issues moves forward

Confident that the lawsuits to restore the crucial payday loan and minimum wage boost issues will be successful, optimistic backers are continuing to organize and mount an aggressive educational campaign while waiting for the outcome of the trials that must be resolved by Sept. 25 in order to get on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Here’s how you can help:

• Volunteers are needed to make phone banking calls to help educate voters throughout Missouri. Volunteers are asked to immediately contact Jobs with Justice St. Louis Organizer Aaron Burnett at Aaron@stl-jwj.org to sign up.

Make a donation for the statewide educational campaign that will be launched once the legal issues are resolved. The payday loan industry is ready to pour millions into try to defeat the usury limit. Currently, it’s not uncommon to see 200 plus percent interest rates on their short-term loans. If you can make a donation of any amount: go to www.Give Missourians a Raise or www.Missourians for Responsible Lending.

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