When lawmakers rolled several controversial elections changes into one jam-packed omnibus bill and approved it in the final moments of the legislative session, a coalition of disparate political groups coalesced around a single goal: to stop the bill from becoming law.
Shortly after the legislative session ended they filed a referendum on the measure, known as HB2305, to put the law on hold until voters have a chance to weigh in during the 2014 election.
But the road to successful referendum isn’t a leisurely ride, and opponents of the law face a struggle against a tight deadline of gathering the 86,405 valid signatures from registered Arizona voters in the sweltering summer months, and a multipronged opposition.
And with less than 50 days left, even some who sympathize with the referendum are skeptical that its backers will be successful.
Drew Chavez, owner of Petition Partners, one of the largest signature gathering groups in Arizona, took to his Twitter page recently to say the referendum effort is in trouble.
Chavez said it is facing problems raising the necessary money to pay for signature gatherers and has had to increase the per-signature pay rate twice in the past few weeks to keep signature gatherers motivated.
He said the signs are ominous for the referendum effort, which he personally supports.
“I’ve never seen an organized effort that had to adjust (its pay rates) in the first 10 days be successful,” Chavez told the ~Arizona Capitol Times.~
Chavez said the effort is facing other problems that are beyond their control. First, the county recorder’s main office is undergoing construction and is not fully open. That could lead to an inability to successfully validate signatures and ensure the signatures collected will be counted by election officials. Signature gathering companies like his use the terminals to verify signatures on a rolling basis while they are collecting them.
Second, California and Washington are both in the midst of big initiatives, and many of the professional signature-gathering firms are working on those campaigns instead.
Backers remain confident
But Sen. Steve Gallardo, who was one of the first voices calling for a referendum on HB2305 and has been involved in the referendum since its inception, dismissed Chavez’s criticism and said he has no doubt the referendum will make it to the ballot.
“Look, if we were in trouble, I’d be backpedalling right now… Rest assured, the petitions will be filed,” he said.
Gallardo and others involved in the campaign say Chavez is bitter because Petition Partners applied for the contract to gather signatures for the referendum and didn’t get it. The contract was awarded to Sign Here Petitions, which ran the failed recall effort against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Referendums have historically faced a tough battle to get on the ballot. Since 1990, 31 referendums have been proposed, while only six have successfully gathered enough valid signatures from registered voters to appear on the ballot. However, all six of the referendums that made it to the ballot were successful in striking down the laws they targeted.
But referendum backers say the argument against HB2305 is easy because the “Frankenstein” bill has “something for everyone to hate.”
Julie Erfle, chair of the referendum committee, Protect Your Right to Vote, said the support the effort has garnered from wide-ranging groups shows how unpopular the law is, and that organizations that are traditionally on different sides of the issues are working together to stop the bill from becoming law.
“We’ve got the Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters, we’ve got labor groups, teachers, firefighters, we’ve got the Libertarians, we’ve got the Dems, we’ve got the Greens. I think we’ve got everyone but the Republicans (supporting the referendum),” she said.
However, she wouldn’t comment on Chavez’s claims that the referendum is in trouble, other than to say she expects to gather enough signatures to put the referendum on the ballot.
She said the effort will rely on more volunteers than paid signature gatherers to get the referendum to the ballot, and noted that Democratic activists are fired up to gather signatures. Their effort got a recent boost when two Democratic members of the Arizona Congressional Delegation – Ron Barber and Ann Kirkpatrick – came out in support of the referendum recently.
A partisan assault
The Arizona Republican Party is staking out a position opposing the referendum. State Chairman Robert Graham this week issued a statement condemning the referendum and calling it a “clear, direct, and partisan assault on legitimate efforts by the Legislature, governor and all 15 county recorders to prevent voter fraud.”
Meanwhile, two separate committees have formed to fight the referendum effort.
Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, who sponsored several provisions of the bill that was ultimately signed into law, is chairing one committee, Protect Our Secret Ballot.
The other committee, called Stop Voter Fraud, is headed up by Robert Mayer, a former staffer for former Sen. Jonathan Paton’s 2012 failed congressional campaign, and Arizona GOP counsel Lee Miller. Miller said he and Mayer created the new committee over differences among the law’s defenders about potential strategy.
Reagan said while the committee may compliment her efforts – which are primarily focused on fundraising now in case the referendum is successful in getting to the ballot – but the two efforts are not coordinated, and she hadn’t had any communication with the other effort.
“To me, it’s good news. It allows me to focus on raising money should we need it if (the referendum) gets on the ballot, but hopefully we won’t need it,” she said.
But supporters of the referendum say the second committee shows Republicans are afraid they will lose if the referendum goes to the ballot.
“The fact that they have to create two groups in order to keep voters from voting on this referendum, I think that says a lot right there. They are clearly scared about what voters will say at the ballot,” Erfle said.
A conglomeration of election bills
HB2305 is a conglomeration of ideas and language from six different elections bills proposed in the last legislative session by several different sponsors.
When 2305 went before a conference committee, several other related bills were tacked on, including some that had never had hearings. Sections of the bills listed below were included in the final version of HB2305.
-HB2568 by Rep. Jeff Dial would have modified the number of signatures required to qualify for the ballot for various elected offices. The bill was never heard in the House Judiciary Committee.
- SB1261 by Sen. Michele Reagan would have allowed allow county recorders to drop people from the Permanent Early Voter List if they did not vote with their early ballot in the past two election cycles and did not respond to a letter asking if they wanted to stay on the list.
-SB1003 by Reagan would have made it a felony for any paid or volunteer worker with any political committee to pick up early ballots from voters and deliver them to elections officials. The bill passed through the Senate, but was never voted on by the full House. HB2305 reduced the penalty to a Class 1 misdemeanor.
-SB1326 by Reagan would have required the secretary of state to refer any campaign finance investigation into the attorney general to a public accountability commission instead of the attorney general. HB2305 allows the secretary of state to refer investigations into the attorney general to the county attorney of the county in which the violation occurred. The original bill never got out of the Senate.
-SB1264 by Reagan would have required the constitutional and statutory requirements for initiative, referendum and recall be strictly construed and that persons using the process must strictly comply with the requirements. It also puts additional requirements on signature gatherers and
it put additional restrictions on who could be a signature gatherer. The bill passed through the Senate, but was never voted on by the full House.
-HB2305 by Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, requires political committees filing petitions with the Secretary of State’s Office to organize and group the signature sheets, and affords a heightened burden of proof for any challenger to the petition circulators if the political committee conducts a background check on its circulators. The bill ultimately became law.