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Sales-tax supporters cheer court ruling

Ann-Eve Pederson (center), chairwoman of the Quality Education and Jobs Committee, stands before a group of supporters on the steps of the Maricopa County Superior Courthouse July 18. Pederson held a press conference moments after the ruling that a proposed one-cent sales tax increase could appear on the November ballot. The Secretary of State’s office refused to accept over 290,000 signatures for the Quality Education and Jobs Initiative after the office received an incorrect paper version of the initiative. The Secretary of State’s Office will decide by July 20 whether to appeal the ruling. (Photo by Josselyn Berry/Arizona Capitol Times)

Supporters of the Quality Education and Jobs Initiative celebrated on the steps of the Maricopa County Superior Courthouse today, moments after Judge Robert Oberbillig overturned the Secretary of State’s decision that more than 290,000 of the group’s petition signatures were invalid due to a paperwork error.

During the brief hearing, Oberbillig called the case “silly” and said that the Secretary of State had the ability to correct the error. It was the secretary’s fault for ultimately choosing the wrong version of the initiative that was filed with the office, Oberbillig said.

“So the Secretary of State’s office doesn’t recognize human error and 290,000 signatures are invalid?” Oberbillig said.

The ruling means the proposed one-cent sales-tax increase takes a step closer to appearing on the November ballot, though the Secretary of State would still need to verify the signatures. The Secretary of State’s Office also will decide by Friday whether to appeal the decision.

The issue involved whether the Quality Education and Jobs committee abided by state Constitution and law when gathering voter signatures.

The Secretary of State rejected the signatures on June 26 after discovering that a paper copy of the initiative submitted to the office omitted two paragraphs that appeared on the version voters saw.

The Quality Education and Jobs committee also submitted an electronic version of the correct initiative that the Secretary’s office did not use. The Secretary of State instead decided that incorrect paper copy was the official version.

The mistake was a clerical error made in the Secretary of State’s Office, supporters of the initiative argued.

The full and correct version on the initiative was attached to the petition for voters to see, said Jen Darland, a vice president of the Arizona Education Network. The initiative would establish a permanent one-cent sales tax increase to fund education, state infrastructure projects, health care and social programs.

Ann-Eve Pederson, chair of the Quality Education and Jobs committee, said she is confident the measure will appear on the ballot and said the decision was a huge victory for Arizona children.

“We felt very vindicated. The rights of Arizona voters were upheld,” she said.

Lisa Ferko, a vice president of the Arizona Education Network, attended the hearing with her 10-year-old daughter.

Ferko hails from Connecticut and said she was surprised to see how education is viewed in Arizona.

“I want her to be able to compete with her cousins on the East Coast. There have to be changes here and we will continue to fight.”

Ferko said she was relieved and pleased to hear the judge’s decision, but will continue to follow the issue.

Pederson urged the Secretary of State to drop the case and said it would be a waste of resources.

Looking up at the group of supporters, which included children and their parents, Pederson teared up as she said: “We will prevail. The forces that try to thwart public will, will not be successful.”

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