Judge leaves Arizona petitions of initiative law at booth – Arizona Capitol Times


A federal judge on Monday refused to overturn an Arizona law that allows a judge to invalidate otherwise legitimate and qualified signatures on a petition of initiative.

In a 19-page ruling, Judge Susan Bolton acknowledged that the 2014 statute could make it more difficult for those who propose their own laws and constitutional amendments to submit their proposals to voters.

But Bolton said the challengers had not presented enough evidence, at least not yet, to show that leaving it in place presents irreparable harm, either to voters or to those hoping to come up with future voting measures. . So, for now, the law and its obstacles will stay on the books – and likely be in place as groups begin submitting petitions for issues to be addressed to voters in 2020.

The law, which passed without significant debate, states 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.

But the important provision concerns the ability of those who try not to hold a voting measure to subpoena circulators to appear in court to verify both their own eligibility and the manner in which they collected the signatures. Specifically, what has been dubbed the Strike Act says that if a circulator who needs to register does not show up, all of the signatures that person has collected can be struck, potentially leaving the petition far from its target.

Not an academic problem

The move comes as Arizonans for Fair Lending, one of the groups that has filed a lawsuit, circulates petitions calling on voters in 2020 to cap interest rates on auto title lending at a rate of maximum annual interest of 36%. Current laws allow lenders to charge more than 200%.

Rodd McLeod, campaign manager for the effort, said the move to allow the law to stay on the books, at least for now, will make it more difficult to get the 237,645 valid signatures needed by July 2 for qualify for the ballot.

“This strike law is a gift to non-state corporations like predatory lenders,” he said. “It allows them to hijack our democracy and give people the right to vote to lower interest rates.”

The 2014 law has already excluded a measure from the ballot.

Voters were unable to vote last year on the Outlaw Dark Money initiative, which sought to insert a provision into the Arizona Constitution to compel any group seeking to influence a political race or electoral measure. to reveal the identity of anyone who has contributed more than $ 10,000.

In this case, the challengers issued subpoenas for 15 circulators. When none appeared, the judge disqualified the 8,824 signatures they had collected, leaving the petition short.

The Arizona Supreme Court upheld the law and the decision to keep the measure out of the ballot, ruling that the law “promotes the constitutional purpose of the initiative process by ensuring the integrity of the collection of signatures by means of reasonable ”.

This led to this retrial, with attorney Sarah Gonski telling Bolton that the law “unconstitutionally discourages the people of Arizona … from exercising their fundamental right to legislate without consulting the legislature.”

For example, Gonski argued that the requirement could reduce the number of people available to circulate initiative petitions. She said groups seeking to change the law would be reluctant to hire paid circulators outside of the Phoenix metro area for fear of not showing up to court, with the result that all of their signatures were thrown away.

Bolton disagreed. “There is not enough evidence of a ‘chilling’ effect,” she writes.

The judge was more willing to consider the argument that organizations pushing for initiative measures will have to collect more than the minimum number of signatures required for fear that some will be rejected.

“Ballot access measures like the Strike Act can restrict political discourse,” Bolton said. But she said the challengers so far “have simply failed to show any facts or circumstances demonstrating such a restrictive effect.”

Exempt legislators

Bolton was also interested in the fact that lawmakers who approved the signature disqualification law were only applying it to voting measures and not presenting petitions for themselves and other elected officials.

Lawyers for the state argued that the distinction was deserved, citing the Voter Protection Act. This constitutional provision states that once a measure is approved at the ballot box, it cannot be repealed by the legislature but must be returned to the voters.

But Bolton said that obstacle, on its own, was not enough to justify the difference.

“The ‘quasi-permanence’ of an initiative once adopted is more a legal result than a compelling government interest justifying the method chosen by (the state) to encourage compliance with subpoenas,” wrote the judge. .

Yet none of this was enough for Bolton to grant Gonski’s motion to ban the state from enforcing the law in the next election.

She said the challengers had failed to demonstrate that they would suffer “irreparable harm” – one of the standards a court uses to determine whether to issue an injunction – if the law remains in force. In fact, the judge noted that at least two of the groups that sued, Arizonans for Fair Lending and NextGen Climate Action, have provided no evidence that they will be deterred from running future campaigns in Arizona as long as the law remains in force.

Because the lawsuit challenges an election law, the defendant in the case is Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.

She actually voted for the measure when she was a state senator in 2014. In fact, all but two of the Senate Democrats backed her: Andrea Dalessandro of Green Valley and Robert Meza of Phoenix.

Editor’s Note: This story has been edited to include comment from an Arizonans spokesperson for Fair Loans.

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