Judge’s ruling upholds initiative to expand ballot rights in Arizona
PHOENIX (AP) — A judge has ruled that an Arizona initiative expanding voting access and rolling back a host of restrictions enacted by the Republican-controlled Arizona Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey will be on the ballot of November, barring a successful appeal to the state Supreme Court, which ordered the judge to explain his decision.
Supporters of free and fair elections are barely able to cringe after opponents managed to disqualify more than 96,000 signatures. This left the initiative with only 2,281 signatures more than the 237,645 signatures required to vote.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Mikitish’s decision came after three weeks of furious legal action as supporters of the election measure and two other initiatives tried to fend off challenges that the legislature and governor Republican have made it much easier to win.
The Arizona Supreme Court issued rulings Wednesday night in all three measures that kept two on the ballot. If approved by voters, they will demand greater transparency of political spending and increase the amount of assets protected from creditors.
The High Court ruling in the Free and Fair Elections case mostly dismissed opponents’ arguments on qualifying signatures, but several challenges to lower court rulings on signatures have divided the two sides.
The court sent him back to Mikitish to review those decisions and make the final calculation to determine if the backers have enough signatures. He made the decision at noon Thursday and ordered Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, to keep the measure on the ballot.
The Supreme Court said in its Thursday night order that it could not say exactly how Mikitish came to its conclusion about the number of valid signatures. He ordered her to provide more details by noon on Friday,
The Arizona Free Enterprise Club, the pro-business group that challenged the initiative, had appealed the new decision.
Stacy Pearson, spokesperson for the group supporting the initiative, said she doubted the court would intervene. “Yes, there still remains a procedural hurdle, but if we were in a position to have to appeal, that would just be performative rather than judicial,” Pearson said. “We are therefore very confident that the Supreme Court [uphold] fair decision based on good laws and good mathematics.
The Free and Fair Elections Act amends a multitude of election laws. It specifically blocks the legislature from overturning presidential election results, a avenue some Republicans have explored after former President Donald Trump’s loss to the state in 2020.
It also guarantees the confidentiality of ballots and prohibits the delivery of election materials or ballots to outside groups as the State Senate did after 2020, expands access to vote, obliges all voters to go to any polling place, expands early voting and limits the ability of lobbyists to wine and dine lawmakers.
“The most important element of this initiative is that it prevents the legislature from overriding the results of an election,” Pearson said. “And it keeps Cyber Ninjas in green shirts from circling ballots on Lazy Susan’s tables again and mocking Arizona’s extraordinarily safe and secure election process.”
See: Wins for Trump-style candidates in blue states threaten Republican hopes for November
The measure would also eliminate the legal standard of “strict compliance” that has led Mikitish to disqualify many petition sheets. The GOP-controlled legislature mandated this standard for initiatives in 2017, making it easier to dismiss them for relatively minor paperwork errors.
Wednesday night’s Supreme Court rulings were the final say on a measure called the Predatory Debt Collection Protection Act. It is backed by a California labor union and opposed by a new group organized by Arizona debt collection companies.
The initiative would increase the amount of a home’s value protected from creditors under the ‘property exemption’ from $150,000 to $400,000 and increase the value of vehicles, cash and equipment. other property protected from creditors. It also caps interest rates on medical debt and adds annual inflation adjustments.
The court also allowed a measure backed by former Arizona attorney general Terry Goddard to appear on the ballot, if the secretary of state certifies he has enough valid signatures later Thursday, as it seems likely. The voters’ right to know law will require any organization to spend more than $5,000 on campaigns to identify all donors, with stiff penalties for non-compliance.
All three measures have faced signature challenges based on paperwork errors made by paid circulators. But the most significant challenge would have probably prevented the three measures from passing. He argued that paid petition distributors must file affidavits certifying that they can legally collect signatures from the Secretary of State for each petition they distribute.
Goddard and the measures lawyers said election rules only require them for initial registrations, and even if they don’t, the secretary of state’s online portal only allows one affidavit to be filed. .
A unanimous Supreme Court ruled that certification must be provided for every measurement. But Chief Justice Robert Brutinel wrote that rejecting the ballot initiatives would hamper the people’s constitutional right to write their own laws.
“A finding of noncompliance and disqualification of circulator signatures on this record and in these circumstances ‘would unreasonably impede or restrict’ the exercise of the power of initiative under the Arizona Constitution,” Brutinel wrote.
Goddard, who worked for years to get the political spending transparency measure on the ballot, applauded the decision.
“Justice prevailed. I’m thrilled,” Goddard said. “And they did what we hoped they would do, which is that logic says there should have been an affidavit to every time, but you can’t force someone to live up to a standard that they can’t live up to.”
Learn more about Arizona politics:
Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers loses Republican primary for state Senate seat
Sinema took money from Wall Street while scrapping taxes on investors
Republican reset in Arizona? The Senate candidate is courting McConnell’s support and removing abortion language from the website.