As of now, the 25 active Arizona ballot initiative and referendum applications do not have the option of collecting necessary signatures online during the statewide ‘stay at home” order to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“Currently, state law does not permit initiative campaigns to collect signatures online. Due to COVID-19, several committees have sued the State for access to online signature collection. These lawsuits are ongoing,” stated Sophia Solis, Public Information Officer for Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.
Attorney Jim Barton represents two petition drives. In legal filings obtained by Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services, Barton states that the petition drives he represents started gathering signatures before there was a pandemic, with circulators approaching voters and asking them to physically sign petitions and circulators then required to sign a sworn affidavit that they witnessed the signatures, all part of efforts to prevent fraud.
“The requirement that electors sign the petition in the presence of the person who is circulating the petition cannot be accomplished during the pandemic,” he told Judge Dominic Lanza during a filing April 8 reported Fischer.
Initiative measures require at least 237,645 signatures statewide while constitutional amendments need 356,467. Barton said one circulator who wants a measure on the November ballot “is required to literally endanger her life in violation of public health warnings and stay-at-home orders in order to exercise her free speech.”
Filings last week by the attorney for the Arizona Republican Party says a system that allows people to sign petitions online — the same one used by political candidates — is “highly susceptible to fraud.”
The new legal filings by Dennis Wilenchik come as the state GOP is urging U.S. District Court Judge Dominic Lanza to reject a bid by initiative organizers to use the existing E-Qual system to finish getting the signatures needed to put their proposals before voters in November.
“The risk of fraud in that system is obvious,” the legal briefs read, as reported in Fischer’s story.
“The system is premised on the false notion that only the voters will have access to their own driver’s license number,” it continues. “But as any good private investigator knows, a person’s name, address and driver’s license number are all public records at the DMV.”
Ms. Solis also stated that the Secretary of State’s office does not have authority to make exceptions or changes to signature requirements or deadlines. The signature requirements and deadlines for initiative petitions are determined by the Arizona Constitution.
“Requirements are updated based on the total number of votes cast for all candidates for governor at the general election preceding the filing of an initiative petition,” she stated. “For initiatives in this election cycle, the signature requirements are based on the total votes cast for governor in the 2018 General Election. Arizona’s Constitution sets the deadline to file signatures at four months before the General Election. See Ariz. Const. art. IV, pt. 1, § 1(4). The deadline this year falls on July 2, 2020.”
There are 25 initiative and referendum applications — that do not involve recalls — listed on the Secretary of State website. Ms. Solis stated initiative committees are not required to notify Ms. Hobbs’ office if they suspend their campaign, and to date, no initiatives have formally communicated that they are doing so.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series by Richard Smith on the initiative topic.