A group calling itself One Arizona filed paperwork with the Secretary of State’s Office on April 28 to begin a petition drive to overturn S1070.
If the group wants the referendum to be on the November ballot, it must collect 76,682 signatures and turn them in before the immigration law takes effect 90 days after the legislative session ends.
But if organizers submit their signatures after July 1 – the deadline for citizen initiatives, but not for referenda – the Secretary of State’s Office said it cannot guarantee that it will have enough time to prepare the referendum for the November 2010 ballot. If not, the issue would appear instead on the November 2012 ballot.
In Arizona, a new law must be put on hold when a referendum on the law qualifies for the ballot. If the Secretary of State’s Office is unable to verify the validity of the signatures on One Arizona’s referendum in time for the Nov. 2 election, it would go to voters in the 2012 general election, meaning S1070 would not take effect for more than two years.
Matt Benson, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said a referendum to challenge S1070 would go on the November ballot if the petition signatures are turned in before July 1. But if they are turned in after that, it’s possible the referendum would go on the 2012 ballot, meaning S1070 would be put on hold until then.”If they file after July 1 it’s uncertain,” Benson said. “We don’t know. And that’s just the simple truth as of today.”
Once the signatures are submitted, it takes about 40 business days for the Secretary of State’s Office and the counties to verify the signatures, and for anyone who wants to challenge the petitions to do so.
Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne said counties start printing the backs of their ballots – which include ballot questions – on Aug. 27, weeks before they print the front sides. The ballots must be ready by the time early voting begins on Oct. 7. Osborne agreed with the Secretary of State’s Office that it would be difficult to get the referendum on the November ballot if it’s submitted after July 1.
“How far can you push the pencil off the desk? I don’t know. It depends,” she said.
An extended delay in the implementation of S1070 may be exactly what One Arizona is planning, according to Andrew Chavez, of the signature-gathering firm Petition Partners. Chavez’s firm was hired by One Arizona to collect signatures for the ballot measure, but he said he could not yet disclose who was organizing the ballot measure.
“Typically I’m not involved in strategic discussions, but I can see this as being something they’re looking at,” Chavez said. If One Arizona gets its referendum on the 2012 ballot, it may be a
boon to groups that plan to challenge S1070 in court. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund plan on filing a joint lawsuit against the law, and attorneys from the two organizations say they will ask the courts for an injunction to prevent the law from going into effect until the case is settled.
A successful legal challenge may be S1070 opponents’ best chance to repeal the new law. A Rasmussen Reports poll showed 70 percent of Arizonans support the new law, leaving the success of any ballot measure in doubt.
If the referendum to reject S1070 fails, however, the law will be solidified against any future legislative changes. Once passed by voters, the law would be protected because of the Voter Protection Act that was added to the state’s constitution in 1998. Mike Liburdi, an elections attorney at Perkins Coie Brown & Bain, said the state Constitution would restrict future Legislatures from repealing or weakening the statute created by S1070. Only voters would have the power to significantly change the law, he said.