Lawmaker wants to remind voters that ballot measures are permanent

Hank Stephenson//January 9, 2013

Lawmaker wants to remind voters that ballot measures are permanent

Hank Stephenson//January 9, 2013

If Arizonans knew that ballot measures were permanent and nearly impossible to change, Rep. Michelle Ugenti thinks that residents would think twice before approving the measures.

Ugenti, R-Scottsdale, introduced a bill requiring advertisements for or against a ballot measure, along with the publicity pamphlets and actual ballots, to include a statement telling voters that their decision on propositions are nearly permanent. The bill (HB 2007 Ballot Measures; Proposition 105 disclosure) would require a notice saying the measure “can never be changed in the future… except by a three-fourths vote of the Legislature and the change furthers the purpose of the original ballot measure, or by referring the change to the ballot.”

Ugenti said the idea came to her watching advertisements for ballot measures in the past few election cycles, which made her wonder if people really understand what it means when initiatives pass.

“What I think is a lot of voters are unaware of is these ballot measures can’t be changed by the Legislature unless you meet a very high threshold,” she said.

She likened ballot measures to non-returnable items at the store, and said that with ballot measures, there are no returns, exchanges or refunds. She said voters need to be aware when they go to cast their ballots that the decisions they make now will probably still be in effect 20 years in the future.

“I like to use the analogy that if you were walking in the store and there was a sign that said ‘All sales final, no returns,’ would that have an impact on your purchase?” she said. “Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn’t but that’s for the shopper or voter to make on their own.”

But Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Phoenix said the bill is nothing more than proof that Ugenti and the Republican caucus think voters are uninformed.

“It goes back to this notion that somehow the voters are dumb and uneducated, and they’re not,” he said. “I think it speaks to what Michelle Ugenti thinks about the average Arizona voter.”

Gallego suspects Ugenti is trying to make it harder for ballot measures to get the approval of voters, but he said that if her idea becomes law, he doesn’t believe it will affect votes either way. Voters already know that their decisions on ballot initiatives are nearly permanent, he said, and voters have been approving and rejecting ballot proposals on those grounds for more than 100 years.

Ann-Eve Pederson, who spearheaded the Yes on Prop. 204 campaign in the last election, agreed that the notice is unnecessary, and said the bill is another example of the Legislature meddling with the ballot measure process. She said lawmakers often don’t like it because it takes away their decision-making authority on certain issues.

“The Legislature and the executive branch already try to interfere and micromanage the initiative process too much,” she said. “We saw that play out most definitely when we were working on Prop. 204.”

She said while she believes that Ugenti’s intent is to dissuade voters from approving ballot measures, she believes the plan might backfire. One of her talking points about Proposition 204 – which would have made permanent the temporary one-cent sales tax increase approved by voters in 2010, but ultimately lost by wide margins – was that the Legislature couldn’t cancel the tax increase or change the way the money was spent.

“It could actually have the opposite effect of what she hopes,” she said. “(The purpose is) probably to try and get people to try not to pass ballot measures – if you pass this it can never be undone. It seems like a scare tactic to me and it could actually have the opposite effect.”

Ugenti said her intent isn’t to scare people away from approving ballot measures, but to make sure that people are thinking of the long term effects of ballot measures.

“It’s not a warning, it’s a heads-up,” she said. “It’s really about enlightening the public and letting them know the laws associated with these ballot initiatives… It’s not about picking sides with any of these ballot measures.”