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Arizona Senate Votes To Impose New Restrictions On Ballot Initiatives

Republican senators voted Wednesday to impose new requirements on initiative circulators, the paid workers or volunteers who collect signatures for ballot initiatives

Existing laws require certain people who circulate petitions to register with the Secretary of State. That includes anyone who is not an Arizona resident and all paid circulators, regardless of where they are from.

Senate Bill 1451 would mandate that these people also provide a telephone number and email address. It also says that when petitions are filed with the Secretary of State that they must be be grouped by circulator.

But the key aspect of the bill is that failure to do any of this means that any petitions collected by a circulator are not counted, regardless of whether the signatures are valid or not.

Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, said that amounts to "disenfranchisement.''

"This is clearly and blatantly and expressly an effort to increase the ability of special interest groups to litigate these initiative measures on purely technical deficiencies,” he argued during floor debate.

Prior Measures

The measure is being pushed by Sen. Vince Leach from Tuscon, who did not defend it during Wednesday's vote.

But this isn't the first bid Leach has made to impose new regulations on voter-crafted ballot measures.

Two years ago, he pushed a measure through banning the practice of paying circulators based on the number of signatures they collect.

This year, he is sponsoring a measure to require that circulators get signatures in all 30 legislative districts.

GOP lawmakers have added other requirements, including one that overruled a state Supreme Court decision that initiative petitions need be only in "substantial compliance'' with the laws, a standard that allows for technical flaws. Now the law spells out that courts can void petition drives if there is not "strict compliance'' with all laws.

Leach also was a plaintiff in a lawsuit financed by Pinnacle West Capital Corp. — the parent of Arizona Public Service — that sought to keep a measure off the ballot last year that would have increased the amount of electricity that utilities have to produce from renewable sources. That lawsuit failed and voters eventually rejected the initiative.

Quezada specifically mentioned that lawsuit Wednesday, saying that the court hearing the case had five days of arguments, admitted 5,500 exhibits and subpoenaed 1,180 witnesses — only to have the challenge fail.

What all that suggests, he said, is this new bill "is clearly a demonstration of a search for purely technical reasons to disqualify circulators.''

Wednesday's 17-13 party-line vote sends the measure to the House.

Claire Caulfield was a reporter and Morning Edition producer at KJZZ from 2015 to 2019.