- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 14, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Opponents of a new Missouri constitutional farming right asked the state Supreme Court on Tuesday to overturn the close election results, asserting that some voters were misled to support it.

The legal challenge hinges on the ballot description presented to voters about Constitutional Amendment 1, which passed by a margin of less than one-quarter of a percentage point out of nearly 1 million votes cast in an August election.

The ballot summary stated that the measure would “ensure that the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed.”

The legal challenge contends voters were “deceived and misled” by the reference to “Missouri citizens,” because it says the rights would apply to any farmer and rancher, including foreign-owned companies.

“If people would have known and understood that this wasn’t just for Missouri citizens - that it would be for foreign corporations - it would have failed overwhelmingly,” said Wes Shoemyer, a former Democratic state senator from northeast Missouri who is president of Missouri’s Food for America and the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.

“I think that ballot language made all the difference in the election,” Shoemyer added.

Opponents had raised concerns about foreign-owned farms in advertisements before the election. But Shoemyer said those ads were undercut when voters read the ballot wording referring to Missouri citizens.

The opposition campaign was financed largely by the Humane Society of the United States, which had backed a successful 2010 ballot measure imposing tougher restrictions on dog-breeding businesses.

Proponents of the right-to-farm amendment touted it as a pre-emptive measure against potential attempts to limit the way farmers raise hogs, poultry and cattle or to restrict the use of genetically modified crops.

The ballot measure already has survived a recount, which was estimated by state election officials to cost about $100,000.

The lawsuit is “a last-ditch effort” by opponents, said Dan Kleinsorge, executive director of Missouri Farmers Care, a coalition of agricultural industry groups that supported the ballot measure.

“We feel that the voters have spoken - they knew what they were voting on when they approved it,” he said.

In addition to citing the wording about “Missouri citizens,” the legal challenge contends that the ballot summary was insufficient and unfair because it failed to note that the new farming right could be limited by some local ordinances.

It’s common for opponents of Missouri ballot measure to challenge the wording presented to voters, but those legal fights typically have occurred before an election - when a judge could still order changes to the ballot wording.

This is the second ballot measure this year to face a post-election challenge. Opponents of a gun-rights measure passed in August filed a legal challenge last month with the state Supreme Court asserting that the August election results should be overturned on grounds that the ballot summary was misleading. The court has not set a date to hear arguments in that case.

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Follow David A. Lieb at: https://twitter.com/DavidALieb

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