A state judge ruled Tuesday that Secretary of State Ken Bennett was wrong to refuse to process initiative petitions seeking to make the one-cent sales tax surcharge permanent.
Backers turned in more than 290,000 signatures for the plan. But Bennett noted the language on the petitions is different than what initiative organizers prefiled on paper with his office in March. Assistant Secretary of State Jim Drake said it was that prefiled language that Bennett put on the office's web site so voters could review it.
"There's more to it than just signing," Drake said. "There's other groups that might want to weigh in in favor or support. There's other groups that might want to weigh in against. It's more than just showing your support by putting your signature down. Other people are evaluating that text."
So Bennett refused to accept the petitions. But Judge Robert Oberbillig said initiative organizers also gave Bennett a correct version -- albeit on disk. And Oberbillig said once Bennett became aware of the discrepancy between the versions he could have recognized from talking with initiative backers that the paper version contained what he called a ``photocopy error.'' After the hearing, initiative organizer Ann-Eve Pedersen chided Bennett for refusing to do just that.
"He could have just as easily said, OK the electronic version which you gave me on March 9, which is the text and copy attached to every single one of your petitions, is the official version, because quite obviously it is," Pedersen said.
The judge also pointed out that the correct version was attached to each petition sheet, giving would-be signers a chance to read the full measure first if they wanted.