The Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the top-two primary initiative can go to the November ballot, rejecting an opposition group’s argument that a trial court erred in not giving the group enough time to introduce evidence against it.
In a ruling issued Thursday, Vice Chief Justice Scott Bales wrote that a Maricopa County Superior Court judge did not abuse his discretion, as the Save Our Vote committee alleged. The committee’s appeal was the last hurdle standing between the Open Elections/Open Government Act and the ballot.
The act would create a “top-two” primary system in which all candidates for an office appear on the same ballot, and the top two voters getters move on to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.
The Save Our Vote committee argued that Judge John Rea should have allowed it to submit four boxes of allegedly problematic petitions and that Save Our Vote should have been granted more time to make its case after the judge forced it to introduce the evidence “piecemeal.’’ Attorney Michael Liburdi, who is representing Save Our Vote, noted in his appeal that the Open Government Committee, which sued to put its initiative on the ballot, did not use all of its two hours.
But the high court said Save Our Vote was well aware of the two-hour time limit on its arguments and noted that its attorneys never argued that the timeframe was insufficient. Bales also wrote that Save Our Vote never attempted to submit the four boxes as evidence at once, and that Rea did not force the committee to introduce petitions on a sheet-by-sheet basis.
“The trial court did not deny SOV due process under the circumstances of this expedited election litigation,” Bales wrote. “SOV has not shown that the trial court abused its discretion with respect to any evidentiary rulings or in adhering to the previously established hearing schedule.”
Liburdi, of the firm Snell and Wilmer, was disappointed with the ruling, but acknowledged how difficult it would have been for Save Our Vote to prevail, considering the compressed timeframe it had to make its case. Maricopa County election officials must send their ballots to the printer by Friday.
“If we’d had a little bit more time … I think the outcome would’ve been different,” Liburdi told the Arizona Capitol Times.
Save Our Vote successfully got 2,065 petition signatures eliminated after demonstrating that they were collected by two convicted felons and a circulator who didn’t properly sign his affidavit. But that was not enough to disqualify the initiative from the ballot after the Open Government Committee convinced Rea to restore 577 signatures from the random sample verified by Maricopa County.
The Supreme Court also rejected an argument by Save Our Vote that the trial court erred in dismissing its complaint while a companion case was still open to an appeal. Maricopa County election officials declined to appeal Rea’s ruling, which overturned the county’s determination that the initiative did not have enough valid signatures.
Paul Johnson, the chairman of the Open Government Committee, praised the court’s ruling.
“Five times now, we have been forced to go to court to defend the rights of Arizona voters to vote on this important amendment,” Johnson said in a press statement. “The political bosses and lobbyists were determined to stop us because they knew the best way to defeat Open Elections/Open Government initiative was to block it from going to the ballot. But finally, it’s time to let the voters decide.”