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Court: Prop 204 clerical error didn’t confuse voters

The clerical error that led to two different versions of a ballot measure was an honest mistake that did not confuse voters, and thus didn’t warrant Secretary of State Ken Bennett’s decision to bar measure from going to voters, the Supreme Court said in an opinion published today.

The opinion explained the reasons for the court’s Aug. 14 order upholding a lower-court ruling that allowed Proposition 204, a proposed sales tax increase, to be placed on the ballot.

In June, Bennett deemed the more than 290,000 petition signatures invalid because a paper copy of the initiative filed with his office omitted 15 lines of text, while the full version was circulated to voters. The measure failed Nov. 6. A complete electronic copy was submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office at the same time as the paper copy.

The opinion comes almost five months after the court order, which is typical for election cases because courts are under strict time constraints to resolve them.

The court said in its 13-page opinion that Prop. 204 met the legal standard of substantially complying with Arizona’s statutes and the state Constitution.

Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch wrote for a unanimous court, saying that, even though there was an incomplete version considered by Bennett to be the “official” copy submitted to his office, there is nothing in statute that defines an official copy. The Quality Education and Jobs committee also provided Bennett with a correct copy electronically.

Berch also said that there was plenty of time to correct the error and there was no intent to deceive the voters.

“. . . (W)e must respect the wishes of the more than 290,000 petition signers and protect the people’s right to propose laws,” Berch wrote.

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