Federal lawsuit challenges law to regulate signature pickers – Arizona Capitol Times
A new trial seeks to strike down a law that may invalidate otherwise legitimate and qualified signatures on a petition of initiative.
Attorney Sarah Gonski said this requirement, unconstitutionally, “discourages the people of Arizona[…]to exercise their fundamental right to legislate without consulting the Legislative Assembly ”. She’s asking U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton to stop Secretary of State Katie Hobbs from enforcing this requirement.
Gonski may have an uphill battle.
The law in question was upheld last year by the Arizona Supreme Court. But Gonski is attempting a different course of attack, alleging it goes against the protections of the US Constitution.
Arizonans can propose their own constitutional amendments and laws by gathering enough signatures to bring the issue directly to voters.
The 2014 law, which passed without meaningful debate, clarifies that paid circulators and those who do not live in Arizona must first register with the Secretary of State, or their collected signatures do not count.
More importantly, it allows those who try not to take a measure to vote to assign these circulators. And if a circulator who needs to register does not show up, then all of the signatures that person has collected can be minted, potentially leaving the petition far from its target.
One of the plaintiffs is the Next Gen Climate Action Committee which pushed for an unsuccessful move last year to impose new renewable energy mandates on utilities. Gonski, advocating on behalf of the organization, said the statute had taken its toll, citing the experience of Jessica Miracle, a paid petition on the measure.
Assigned by enemies of the measure, the lawsuit says Miracle couldn’t be present because her children were sick, she didn’t have her own transportation to Phoenix, and no one would clearly tell her how many days she was. would need to be in Phoenix.
The result, according to Gonski, was that all of the 2,604 signatures collected by Miracle were invalidated.
Gonski said the law was not just unfair to circulators.
One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit is Mary Katz, listed as a Phoenix resident and registered voter.
According to Gonski, Katz signed this renewable energy measure.
“But his signature was then invalidated when the circulator who witnessed it was unable to appear in court when he was summoned,” says the trial. And Gonski said Katz was only told long after the election that her signature had been invalidated, meaning there was no way for her to go to court to tell the judge he was ‘was indeed a valid signature.
The other key plaintiff in the case is Arizonans for Fair Lending, which is currently circulating petitions to enact legislation banning title lending. Rod McLeod, who manages the campaign, said the law has now become a tool challengers can use to prevent measures facing some business interests from ever reaching voters.
He pointed out that opponents of the renewable energy measure have issued subpoenas for around 1,180 circulators. McLeod said it was clear from the start that there was no way to question the fact that so many people in the week the judge had set aside for trial.
In fact, Gonski said, of the 913 circulators who appeared, 872 were sent home without ever being asked a single question about their work.
McLeod said the challengers knew that, using the massive subpoenas “just for intimidation” in the hope that some people wouldn’t show up, allowing all the signatures they’ve collected to be canceled. And that could become a problem as her organization seeks to get the 237,645 valid signatures it needs by July 2, 2020 to put the title lending measure on the 2020 ballot.
The tactic of issuing subpoenas to disqualify signatures actually worked last year, although it didn’t involve as many subpoenas.
It was an initiative to insert a “right to know” provision into the Arizona Constitution, requiring that any group seeking to influence a political race or electoral measure disclose the identity of anyone with contributed over $ 10,000.
The challengers issued subpoenas for 15 circulators, leaving them with a security guard in an office building that had been used by a company that had hired the paid circulators. When none appeared, the judge disqualified the 8,824 signatures they had collected, leaving the petition short.
Lawyer Kim Demarchi challenged the law in this case in order to put the measure “Outlaw Dark Money” on the ballot. She argued that a circulator’s signatures should only be discarded when there is a “valid objection” to the circulator or the “need for a circulator’s testimony”.
But Supreme Court Justice John Lopez, writing for the unanimous court, said the constitutional right of people to propose their own laws and constitutional amendments “is, and should be, subject to reasonable regulation.” And he said that requiring circulators to appear in court and discard their signatures if they do not protest “promotes the constitutional purpose of the initiative process by ensuring the integrity of the collection of documents. signatures by reasonable means ”.
Gonski, in his retrial, argued in Bolton that the law was unfair and discriminatory. She pointed out that lawmakers have decided that the obligation to register paid and out-of-state circulators and to allow their signatures to be struck if they do not show up, only applies to voting measures. and not the nomination of petitions for political candidates.
“There is no evidence to suggest that initiative petitions are more susceptible to fraud than candidate nomination petitions, nor that paid or out-of-state circulators need a special sanction beyond other circulators to force their presence in court, ”she wrote.
A spokeswoman for Hobbs, who is the defendant in the case, said her office is reviewing the challenge.
The case presents an interesting situation for Hobbs: she actually voted for the measure when she was a state senator in 2014. In fact, all but two Democratic senators supported her: Andrea Dalessandro of Green Valley and Robert Meza from Phoenix.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that Arizonans for a fair loan needed enough signatures by July 2 to make the 2018 ballot. The group actually has until July 2, 2020 to take the ballot 2020.