An Arizona lawmaker wants to make it more difficult for voters to amend Arizona’s Constitution, but first he has to convince voters that it’s the right thing to do.
Rep. Phil Lovas said that the bar should be raised when it comes to proposals to amend the Constitution – a move that now requires a simple majority vote of Arizonans. Proposed changes to the Constitution are sent to the ballot, where they require more than 50 percent of those voting on the issue to approve.
The Peoria Republican wants to raise the required percentage of the vote to 60 percent.
“If you’re going to amend the Constitution you should need more broad support,” he said.
Each state handles proposed amendments to state constitutions differently, but if Lovas can get his measure approved, Arizona would be following in the footsteps of Florida, which requires 60 percent approval of ballot measures pushing for a constitutional amendment.
In Arizona, the change won’t be easy. For one thing, changing the percentage necessary for a constitutional amendment in itself requires a change to the Constitution.
Lovas first must get enough lawmakers in the House and Senate to approve his resolution. If approved, a question would be placed on ballots in 2016, essentially asking voters if they want it to be more difficult to amend the Constitution.
Constitutional amendments can be proposed either legislatively, as Lovas is doing, or by citizen initiative, which requires the collection of signatures calling for the amendment to be placed on ballots. To amend the Constitution via the petition process, proponents need to submit signatures equivalent to 15 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election. So, in 2016, a constitutional amendment needs 225,963 valid signatures of registered voters to qualify for the ballot.
- Phil Lovas
Some grassroots activists immediately viewed Lovas’ resolution as a power grab.
“First of all, shame on Phil Lovas for wanting to give power back to the government and take it away from the people,” said Lynne Weaver, whose group for years has been pushing for California-style limits on property tax increases.
Weaver has so far been unable to get the question on the ballot, though she’s going to try again. EZ Property Tax – previously known as Prop 13 Arizona – is once more preparing to get its measure on the ballot, but only if the group can line up sufficient funding for the signature-gathering phase.
That, she said, merely underscores how hard it is even now to pursue a constitutional change.
“It’s very difficult to accomplish. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of money. It’s a huge project,” she said.
Even getting a question on the ballot doesn’t guarantee success. Since 1994, 60 constitutional questions have been placed on the ballot either through the referral or initiative process, and only 33 have ultimately been approved, some of them by very close margins.
Lovas said he doesn’t have a past, present or future issue in mind that compelled him to try to raise the bar for constitutional amendments, but he simply feels 50 percent of the vote is not enough. Requiring more broad support could also compel campaigners to be more diligent and honest in their efforts to get constitutional amendments approved, he said.
“If you’re going to amend the Constitution, running some kind of misinformation campaign to get to 50 percent plus one is not going to serve the public well,” Lovas said.
Weaver surmised that Lovas’ proposal won’t fly with voters, even if enough lawmakers vote to place the question on the 2016 ballot.
“No one wants a more powerful government right now, and we’re fortunate to have the citizen initiative,” Weaver said. “We citizens should never be giving power back to the government.”