Arizona election law will be put to statewide vote

October 30, 2013

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the law in June (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

Arizona will vote next year on a controversial bill that made sweeping changes to the state’s election laws after Secretary of State Ken Bennett (R) certified Tuesday that opponents of the bill had collected enough signatures to force the measure onto the ballot.

The bill’s opponents collected more than 110,000 valid signatures, Bennett said, significantly higher than the 86,405 required. Now that the measure is set to go before voters, its implementation will be delayed until after the 2014 elections.

The law, passed by the Republican-led legislature and signed by Gov. Jan Brewer (R), would have created a two-tiered voting system for those who registered to vote using federal registration forms, according to a legal opinion issued earlier this month by Attorney General Tom Horne (R). Horne said voters who registered using a federal registration form but failed to provide a document proving their citizenship are eligible to vote in federal elections, but not in state and local elections.

The law also would have made it more difficult for minor party candidates to get on the ballot. It would significantly raise the number of signatures that small-party candidates are required to get to make it on the ballot. A provision of the law requires candidates for Congress and the state legislature to receive one-third of 1 percent of registered voters in their respective districts. That’s far more than Greens or Libertarians are currently required to collect; Libertarians would see the number of signatures their candidates are required to collect jump 40-fold.

The law would also allow county recorders to purge names from the list of ongoing absentee voters if those voters don’t cast ballots in two consecutive federal elections; opponents of the bill say that would put independents who don’t regularly vote in primaries at risk of losing their ongoing absentee status. The measure also prohibits paid employees or volunteers working for a political committee from going door-to-door to collect absentee ballots.

Finally, and perhaps most worryingly to the law’s opponents, the new law would apply strict compliance to recall and initiative petitions, rather than substantial compliance. The bill’s critics say that means recall or initiative petitions would be in danger of being disqualified over minor technical issues, like state-mandated page margins or whether a voter included his or her middle initial when signing a petition.

It’s already difficult to get referenda on the ballot in Arizona. The election law will be the first citizen-led referendum to qualify for the Arizona ballot since 1998, when two referenda dealing with medical marijuana and marijuana possession made the ballot; both referenda failed.

Democrats, labor groups, Hispanic advocates and minor parties like the Libertarians and Greens banded together to collect signatures to force the law onto the ballot. But Democratic strategists have been the driving force. Rodd McLeod, one of Arizona’s leading Democratic strategist and ex-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’s former campaign manager, is helping lead the campaign, as is Robbie Sherwood, who helped elect ex-Rep. Harry Mitchell (D) to office in 2006. Democratic pollster Celinda Lake is also on board.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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