It’s still up in the air whether voters will decide the fate of the city’s pension system in November.
A Pima County Superior Court judge threw out at least 5,000 initiative petition signatures late Friday before sending the rest of the signatures back to city and county election officials to see if there are enough valid ones remaining to qualify the initiative for the November ballot.
The ruling by Judge James Marner was in response to a lawsuit filed by two city employees over a proposition that would overhaul the city’s current retirement system, converting it to a 401(k)-style plan.
Last month, the employees filed suit asking for the removal of more than 10,000 signatures because either felons or unregistered out-of-state circulators collected many of them.
Marner dumped some signatures, let others stay and then ordered the city clerk and Pima County recorder to run the numbers again based on the new figures.
The judge threw out 1,196 signatures collected by two felons with unrestored rights and an additional 3,652 signatures from three out-of-state residents who failed to properly register with the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office.
Exactly how many additional signatures were disqualified is uncertain because Marner rejected 60 petition pages due to other irregularities, such as questions over who actually filled in date and printed name boxes on the petition sheets. It was not known how many signatures those pages contained.
In July, the Committee for Sustainable Retirement Benefits submitted 22,693 eligible signatures for verification.
After the Pima County Recorder performed the random sample, the city clerk, Roger Randolph, determined the committee had 17,668 valid signatures and declared the initiative eligible for the November ballot.
The committee needed a minimum of 12,730 signatures to qualify.
Randolph said his office has already started processing the petition sheets.
Marner did uphold the signatures collected by four others who plaintiffs alleged were unrestored felons.
Their crimes were committed in states such as Ohio or California, where voting rights are restored upon completion of jail time or parole. And since there wasn’t any evidence presented showing any of those four hadn’t satisfied their sentences, Marner let some of their signatures stand.
And that was good news for the committee.
“It appears that the number of signatures disqualified by the court will fall short of what the plaintiffs needed to remove the initiative from the ballot — even if a new random sample is conducted,” committee attorney Lisa T. Hauser said in an email. “We are pleased that most of (the) plaintiffs’ allegations about unqualified circulators were rejected by the court. Even so, it also appears that some of the findings made against the committee were erroneous and that the number of disqualified signatures should be much lower.”
Hauser said the committee is weighing its next steps.
The deadline to complete the new random sample is Aug. 23.