PHOENIX — Republican senators voted Wednesday to impose new requirements on initiative circulators in a way one Democrat said is designed to make it easier for special interests to quash future ballot measures.
Existing laws require certain people who circulate petitions to register with the Secretary of State. That includes anyone who is not an Arizona resident and all paid circulators, regardless of where they are from.
SB 1451 would mandate that these people provide a telephone number and email address. It also says that when petitions are filed with the Secretary of State they must be grouped by circulator.
But the real key is that failure to do any of this means that any petitions collected by a circulator are not counted, regardless of whether the signatures are valid or not. Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, said that amounts to “disenfranchisement.”
“In all the committee hearings, no one has attempted to argue that the signatures that would be tossed out as a result of this bill aren’t 100 percent valid,” he argued during floor debate.
“Nobody testified that the voters who signed the initiative petitions did not intend for the valid signatures to help put that proposal on the ballot and give all Arizonans an opportunity to vote for it,” Quezada continued. “This is clearly and blatantly and expressly an effort to increase the ability of special interest groups to litigate these initiative measures on purely technical deficiencies.”
The measure is being pushed by Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, who did not defend it during Wednesday’s vote.
But this isn’t the first bid by Leach, backed by business interests that tend to oppose voter-crafted ballot measures, to impose new regulations.
Two years ago he pushed through a measure banning the practice of paying circulators based on the number of signatures they collect. And this year he is sponsoring a measure to require that circulators get signatures in all 30 legislative districts.
GOP lawmakers have added other requirements, including one that overruled a state Supreme Court decision that initiative petitions need be only in “substantial compliance” with the laws, a standard that allows for technical flaws. Now the law spells out that courts can void petition drives if there is not “strict compliance” with all laws.
Leach also was a plaintiff in a lawsuit financed by Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent of Arizona Public Service, that sought to keep a measure off the ballot last year that would have increased the amount of electricity that utilities have to produce from renewable sources. That lawsuit failed, though voters eventually rejected the initiative.
Quezada specifically mentioned that lawsuit Wednesday, saying that the court hearing the case had five days of arguments, admitted 5,500 exhibits and subpoenaed 1,180 witnesses — only to have the challenge fail.
What all that suggests, he said, is this new bill “is clearly a demonstration of a search for purely technical reasons to disqualify circulators.”
This measure has the backing of the state and several local chambers of commerce who have been unable to stop voters from approving measures they do not like. Most recently that included boosting the state minimum wage from $8.05 an hour in 2016 to $11 now, going to $12 next year.
Wednesday’s 17-13 party-line vote sent the measure to the House.