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Arizona Bill Would Make it More Difficult for Statewide Initiatives to Qualify for Ballot

Published on February 21, 2013, by in General.

Arizona State Senator Michele Reagan (R-Scottsdale) has introduced SB 1416, to provide that statewide initiatives must collect at least 40% of their valid signatures from voters who live outside Maricopa County (which has Phoenix) and Pima County (which has Tucson).

The bill also provides that newly-qualifying party petitions would need at least 10% of their signatures from outside those two counties. Under court precedents, this bill, if enacted, would be unconstitutional.

7 Responses

  1. Joshua

    Does Sen. Reagan not like her own constituents? Scottsdale is in Maricopa County. She wants to make it more difficult for her own constituents to get an initiative on the ballot. (Maricopa and Pima combined make up about 75% of the population of Arizona.)

    This would make more sense if it was coming from a legislator from a rural county who was unhappy with the initiatives the people in the Phoenix and Tucson areas were pushing onto the ballot. It would still be unconstitutional, but at least I could understand the motivation.

  2. Jim Riley

    The bill was proposed on behalf of the county recorders. Senator Reagan is the chair of the elections committee, and it was certain to get out of the elections committee – even though it needs to be amended (likely on the floor).

    Arizona already requires that 10% of qualifying-party petitions come from outside the two large counties. SB 1416 simply replaces a population threshold with a registration threshold. The Americans Elect Party qualified under this standard, and currently 20% of AEP registrants are from the smaller counties.

    It also does not require 10% of signatures be from those counties, but that 10% of the threshold amount be from those counties. For example, if 100,000 signatures were needed, and 120,000 were gathered, only 10,000 would need to be from outside the large counties, not 12,000.

    The substantive change was to the initiative process. The current threshold of 10% for statute initiatives, 15% for constitutional initiatives, and 5% for referendum initiatives is set in the Arizona Constitution. The attorneys for the legislature were concerned that a distribution standard would be contrary to the simple statewide standard in the Arizona Constitution, so there is also a proposed constitutional amendment (SCR 1019) which had a hearing right after that for SB 1416.

    The primary concern of the county recorders was that circulators were collecting almost all their signatures in Maricopa County, and then dumping them on a single county’s office to be counted.

    What precedents are there that support your assertion that the distribution standard is unconstitutional? In Nevada, there was a requirement for signatures from many counties or legislative districts. This simply divides Arizona into (for practical purposes) three regions Maricopa, Pima, and the other 13 counties.

    Maricopa has 58.8% of registrants, Pima 15.4%, and 25.8% from the other 13 counties. Even if someone is gathering 2X the required minimum, it may be easier to keep gathering in Maricopa County.

    Let’s assume that a voter is equally willing to support an initiative regardless of county, and that 100,000 signatures are needed to qualify. The circulators decide to gather 200,000 signatures, which might only be half of the 400,000 persons who would be willing to sign if a circulator located them.

    So there would be 232,000 persons in Maricopa County willing to sign, and it might be easier to harvest them, than gathering signatures from the 103,000 willing voters in other counties (19,000 in the largest small county Pinal).

    Requiring 40% to be gathered from counties with 26% of voters would be problematic. The witness from the county recorders said that they would be willing to negotiate on a reasonable number, but then was totally ignored. The one No vote on reporting the bill and resolution to the full senate, did so because of the 40% threshold, but said he would support 25%.

    The trick is to come up with a standard that takes into account population shifts.

    It would require something like: “80% of the pro rata share from each county with more than 10% of registrants, and from the other counties collectively.” But since the statewide threshold is based on the gubernatorial vote, it would make sense to make the county thresholds also based on the gubernatorial vote in each county. But then it is becoming increasingly messy to specify in the constitution.

    It might be easier to state as concurrent requirements:

    “10% of statewide gubernatorial vote, including 8% of gubernatorial vote in each county with more than 10% of gubernatorial vote, and 8% of total gubernatorial vote in counties with less than 10% of the gubernatorial vote.”

    But then you would have to repeat for each type of initiative. Or perhaps you could let the legislature set the distribution standards.

  3. Jim Riley

    #1 The proposal is from the county recorders (including Maricopa), whose main concern was that almost all the signatures were being gathered in Maricopa County and then dumped on the single county recorder to be counted.

    Maricopa County has 59% of voters, but it may be easier to gather more than 59% of signatures there, since you are likely to have more massive gatherings of voters. To gather an equivalent number from the smaller counties, would likely require gathering some from almost all of the counties.

  4. Demo Rep

    http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/Distribution_requirement

    See the 1969 Moore v. Ogilvie SCOTUS case — one of the very few times SCOTUS showed SOME brain cells in an election law case.

  5. Jim Riley

    #4 Illinois required a fixed number of signatures from 50 of 102 counties.

    Arizona requires 10% of signatures to be from the 13 counties with 25% of the voters, with no internal distribution. Arizona requires a new-party petition to be signed by 1-1/3% of the total vote in the last gubernatorial election. So the statute means you have to have signatures from 0.53% of voters in the 13 smaller counties collectively.

    Montana attempted to change its distribution requirement from one based on legislative districts, to one based on counties. That was overturned by a federal district court, which said that you can’t require signatures from a bunch of small units (Montana has 38 counties with less than 10,000 persons). But Montana was requiring the statewide standard to be met in each of 1/2 the counties.

    After the district court ruling in Montana, Montana simply reverted to their old method of requiring signatures from 1/3 of legislative districts.

    So it doesn’t appear that there are actually any precedents against having distributional requirements. There have been court decisions regarding particular distributions, that are different than that proposed in Arizona.

    Arizona only has one county with less than 10,000 persons, and 7 of the “smaller” counties have more than 100,000 persons. The requirement is a collective one for an area with one fourth of the state’s voters.

  6. Demo Rep

    # 5 OBVIOUSLY there are NEVER the same number of Electors in ANY subarea of a regime – district, county, precinct, whatever.

    The adjective in the 14th Amdt is EQUAL — equal protection.

  7. Jim Riley

    #6 I’m sure you are attempting to make a point here, but it is unclear what it is.

    Please apply what you are saying to Article III, Sections 4 and 7 of the Montana Constitution.

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