Michigan Woman Sues Over Oklahoma Signature Law

Tuesday, May 1st 2007, 3:17 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A Michigan woman who testified Tuesday before a multicounty grand jury in Oklahoma City filed a federal lawsuit challenging Oklahoma's law that prohibits out-of-state residents from circulating petitions in the state.

Susan Johnson filed the lawsuit late Monday afternoon in federal court in Oklahoma City against Gov. Brad Henry, Attorney General Drew Edmondson and Secretary of State Susan Savage.

``I am asking the court to declare unconstitutional the laws of Oklahoma which severely limit our first amendment rights and the use of the initiative process,'' Johnson said in a statement provided to the Associated Press.

``Make no mistake, the good old boys who want to abolish the rights of the people to vote on their own legislation and who are trying to send their political opponents to jail have picked on the wrong American. I will not be intimidated. I will not back down.''

A spokesman for Edmondson said his office has reviewed the lawsuit and is confident the state statutes will hold up in court.

``We believe the statute is constitutional and are prepared to defend it in court,'' said spokesman Charlie Price.

Johnson is president of National Voter Outreach, a group that helped circulate an initiative petition drive in Oklahoma in 2005 seeking a statewide vote on the so-called taxpayer bill of rights, commonly called TABOR. The company has offices in Las Vegas and Luddington, Mich.

Grand jury proceedings are secret, but NVO spokeswoman Bonnie Russell said Johnson only testified briefly on Tuesday.

The petition signatures were successfully challenged by a group of Oklahoma business leaders, and in a 2006 opinion, Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph M. Watt harshly criticized NVO for ``establishing a pervasive pattern of wrongdoing and fraud'' in the TABOR petition drive.

The opinion said evidence was overwhelming that the organization skirted Oklahoma law by knowingly using out-of-state recruiters.

Under Oklahoma law, a petition circulator must be an Oklahoma resident, and violation of that law is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and a year in the county jail.

``The statutes on their face and as implemented and applied are constitutionally overbroad, vague and infringe upon Plaintiff's federal constitutional rights,'' Johnson's complaint alleges.

``The people that come in from out of state should not be threatened with prosecution,'' said Johnson's attorney, Stephen Jones of Enid.

Jones said it's likely another petition drive will be launched to place the TABOR issue on the ballot, and he hopes the matter can be settled before that.

``It's prudent that we ask the court for an injunction to prohibit the enforcement on the ban of out of state circulators, both civilly and criminally.''