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TIME Initiative disqualified for lack of valid signatures

Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer said today that the TIME ballot initiative has been disqualified because supporters failed to gather the necessary number of valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Supporters of the initiative have turned in about 261,000 signatures to help qualify their proposal for the ballot, but vetting procedures completed by Brewer's office and recorders from the state's 15 counties determined that more than 122,000 submission were invalid.

David Martin, TIME chairman and president of the Arizona Chapter of the Associated General Contractors, said the disqualification provided "additional opportunities to challenge on every front." He said a legal challenge will be filed soon.

The Secretary of State's Office removed roughly 22,000 names on circulated petitions three weeks after TIME consultant Thomas Ziemba filed the petitions.

Subsequent examinations by county recorders eliminated approximately 100,000 signatures, said Brewer, who expressed dismay at the results.

"I am very surprised that a ballot measure ended up with over 42 percent of its signatures being invalid," Brewer said in a written statement. "That is among the largest overall invalid rates that I can recall ever seeing from a citizens' initiative drive."

According to Brewer, the TIME initiative, which sought to raise $42.6 billion with increases on sales and mining taxes to pay for statewide transportation upgrades and other projects, fell almost 15,000 signatures short of qualifying for the November ballot.

Refusing Home Builders' signatures a mistake?

Prior to filing 260,000 signatures in July, the TIME committee rejected an additional 18,000 signatures collected by the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona.

The trade group had previously reached a deal with Napolitano to support the TIME initiative. In exchange, supporters of the proposal agreed to remove provisions that would have taxed developers.

In a May 6 letter sent to Napolitano, the HBACA agreed to contribute $100,000 to the TIME signature-gathering effort, but HBACA President Connie Wilhelm's gift of thousands of signatures, and not cash, soured the relationship between the entities.

"We thought her obligation was $100,000 cash," TIME treasurer Martin Shultz told the Arizona Capitol Times in July.

Wilhelm said her organization had lived up to its end of the bargain, and that the $100,000 obligation was applied directly to independent signature-collection efforts to verify that members' money was being spent properly.

"It's always unfortunate when these things happen, but perhaps it would have been prudent for them to accept our signatures," said Wilhelm, who added that she was "very confident the signatures we gathered were good."

When asked if refusing the HBACA's signatures was a mistake, Martin said the signatures were not refused to spite the HBACA.

"The issue wasn't if we objected to those," he said. "The issue of those was whether they (the HBACA) were authorized to get them. That was not part of the deal."

TIME supporters point fingers at county, Brewer

Shultz also said the TIME committee's own validation checks do not "match up" with the high rate of invalidity found by the Maricopa County Recorder's Office and that the committee is certain that many valid signatures were removed.

That point was reiterated by Andrew Chavez and consultant Bob Grossfeld, owners of Petition Partners, a company hired by the TIME committee to collect enough signatures to qualify.

Grossfeld laid the blame for the disqualification squarely upon the Maricopa County Recorder's Office and the Secretary of State's Office, accusing the county of voter registration error and Brewer of throwing out valid petitions.

Claims by the county that all voter registrations completed this year have been "processed" also are suspect, he said. "When they say processed, we don't believe it because we don't know what they mean. And they haven't made it clear."

Grossfeld said that both Petition Partners and the TIME committee had done internal validity testing and that both surveys returned results with far higher validity rates.

"This is only a Maricopa County problem," he said, noting he was confident the measure would appear on the ballot.

County elections director and Secretary of State defend signature checks

The county determined that 45.1 percent of 10,445 randomly pulled TIME signature samples were invalid. Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne defended the results, stating that all random samples received had been checked repeatedly.

"We have a very strict standard of review," she said, adding the "findings of the TIME Initiative are accurate."

"I understand that they are in between a rock and a hard place," Osborne said, "but all I know is that we have done our work properly."

Grossfeld also said the group believes that up to 50 percent of the signature petitions removed by Brewer were valid and that her actions "skewered" the results by shrinking the pool of randomly selected signatures distributed to counties.

And like Osborne, Brewer defended her office's role in the verification process. But she also said the petition-gathering system needs an overhaul.

"The verification process is of checking millions of petition signatures is something my office took very seriously in compliance with Arizona Revised Statutes," Brewer said. "In the end, it seems to me we've seen too many problems and abuses with the gathering of petitions, and this is now a lesson that it is time to reform the overall petition-gathering system as I had proposed over the last few years."

Brewer called into question the common practice of paying gatherers per signature – a pay scale that she held accountable for introducing "unnecessary errors" and even fraud to the initiative process.

The process

Petition sheets full of signatures are filed with the Secretary of State, which first removes sheets that contain glaring errors, such as a lack of notarization or a copy of the title and text of the measure.

Remaining signatures are divided according to the county the petitions were circulated in, and from the total, 5 percent of the signatures are randomly pulled and sent to county recorders to be verified.

The counties are responsible for making sure all the randomly selected signatures collected within their jurisdiction are from registered voters, which is a requirement to sign ballot initiative petitions.

That random sampling is used to calculate a validity rate, and the measure qualifies for the ballot if the counties' totals equal at least 105 percent of the required number of signatures, the measure qualifies for the ballot.

Ballot initiatives that score below 95 percent of required valid signatures fail, according to state law. And measures scoring between 95 and 105 percent trigger a full hand-count.

The TIME initiative seeks to raise the state's sales tax from 5.6 to 6.6 percent, as well as add a 1-percent increase to the mining-severance tax of 2.5 percent. The tax increases, if the measure returns to the ballot and is passed by voters, would begin in 2010 and last for 30 years.

The TIME initiative, spearheaded by Gov. Janet Napolitano, as well as construction and engineering contractors, seeks to upgrade the state's highway system and to expand commuter-rail systems, pedestrian walkways and bike paths.

The proposal also seeks to set aside $1.2 billion to allow governments and private entities to apply for grants to assist environmental conservation efforts.

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