PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected challenges to two voter initiatives filed for the November ballot: one already certified for the ballot, another that appears likely to do so after a final signature check is completed and a third still awaiting signatures a barrier
A challenge to a third measure to expand voting access and roll back restrictions imposed by the Republican-controlled Legislature was largely rejected by the Supreme Court, but several challenges to lower court rulings on the signatures split for each side and the court sent them back to the trial court. It may lack qualifying signatures.
Opponents, mainly business groups, argued that the paid petition distributors for all three measures were not in compliance with the law because they failed to file written affidavits proving they met legal requirements each time they notified the secretary of state that they would collect the necessary signatures for a specific initiative.
Supporters of the measures said they followed the rules set by the secretary of state’s office for registration, and that the secretary’s online portal does not allow for more than one affidavit.
Lower courts have said that only one affidavit is required. But Gov. Doug Ducey and opponents of the measures disagreed and asked the Supreme Court to reject any petitions collected by people who collected signatures on more than one initiative but submitted only one affidavit.
In brief orders dismissing the challenges, Chief Judge Robert Brutinel said the law does require new certification for each initiative. But the seven justices said that because the secretary of state’s system doesn’t allow that, they won’t reject the petitions because it would interfere with the people’s constitutional right to write their own laws.
“The Court unanimously declines to hold that the initiative committee … or any individual circulator failed to comply (with the law) when SOS prevented such compliance,” Brutinel wrote. “A finding of inconsistency and withholding of the appellees’ signatures on this record and under these circumstances would “unreasonably impede or limit” the exercise of initiative under … the Arizona Constitution.”
Former Attorney General Terry Goddard, who spent years working to get Voters’ Right to Know on the ballot, applauded the ruling.
“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 every time, but you can’t hold yourself to a standard that can’t be met.”
The three rulings said the court “fully expects” the secretary of state’s office to adjust the circulator registration portal to accept new affidavits for each initiative someone wants to collect signatures on.
The court also dismissed a challenge to a lower court ruling that circulators who lived in multi-unit housing must list their unit number on their petitions and other forms.
The Voters’ Right to Know measure is the only one still awaiting certification of qualifying signatures submitted by supporters, the county clerk and the secretary of state. But Goddard said 13 of the 15 precincts have completed their reviews and about 80% of the signatures have been deemed valid, a tall margin that will make it easy to get the initiative on the ballot as the final two precincts close in on that mark.
The justices also rejected a challenge to the 100-word summary that voters saw when they signed petitions to put the Anti-Debtor Protection Act on the ballot. Opponents argued that the last phrase, which says it does not change laws related to secured debt, is misleading.
“The summary, when read as a whole, is not objectively false or misleading,” Brutinel wrote.
The initiative would increase the amount of home value protected from creditors under the “homestead exclusion” from $150,000 to $400,000, and increase the value of vehicles, cash and other property protected from creditors. It also caps interest rates on medical debt and adds an annual inflation adjustment.
The measure on free and fair elections remains in the field, despite the ruling of the Supreme Court. His fate is tied to how the final signature count is tallied after the High Court ruled that some rejected signatures must be counted and some accepted must be rejected.
In order to participate in the vote, initiatives must have 238,000 valid signatures.
A lower court judge is still fighting challenges to some of his qualifying signatures and will now have more work to do based on the Supreme Court ruling.
Attorney General Jim Barton, who represents the commission supporting the ballot measure, said the results will not be known until Thursday, “but the Committee hopes that means we will stay on the ballot.”
Signatures and documents under the initiative are being weighed by judges under a “strict compliance” legal standard overseen by the GOP Legislature and Ducey enacted in 2017. Republican lawmakers have said it’s necessary because once an initiative is passed, it’s nearly impossible for the legislature to change it. The change made it easier to throw them out for relatively minor errors in the documents.
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