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Lawyer: No one hurt yet by law restricting voter initiatives

The attorney for two top Republican lawmakers is laying the groundwork to quash a legal challenge to new hurdles they erected to voters creating their own laws.

During a preliminary hearing May 25, David Cantelme did not address whether the Legislature exceeded its constitutional authority by requiring those who propose initiatives to be in “strict compliance” with each and every election law. That is a significant change from current law which requires only “substantial compliance,” a standard that allows the public to vote on measures despite technical violations.

Instead, Cantelme told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joshua Rogers he believes there’s a legal flaw in the case by challengers, a flaw he contends bars the judge from considering their request to block the law from taking effect.

“If they haven’t suffered an injury, a real, palpable, discrete injury, they don’t have a case,” he said. And Cantelme, who represents Senate President Steve Yarbrough and House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, said there is nothing in the record so far that shows the various challengers will be harmed if they’re forced to have to live under the strict compliance standard.

Attorney Roopali Desai

Attorney Roopali Desai

But attorney Roopali Desai who represents challengers, objects to the fact that Cantelme wants to question her clients, ahead of the hearing, some of whom are people who have been involved in past initiatives.

Cantelme wants to ask them about future plans, an issue he said goes to the question of whether they actually would be harmed if the strict compliance standard takes effect as scheduled on Aug. 9.

Desai, however, told Rogers she sees something more sinister in what Cantelme is arguing.

“The (Republican-controlled) Legislature is going to try to get into facts relating to the strategy and details with respect to the who, what, when, and details of initiatives that the plaintiffs are not required at this stage to have to (disclose),” she said. “It would be completely inappropriate for the Legislature to get into those sort of political, strategic issues that they otherwise would not have access to.”

After the hearing, Cantelme did not dispute that he wants to ask the challengers about their future plans.

“I get to ask them what is appropriate for the case,” he said, refusing to be more specific.

Among the plaintiffs in the case is Matt Madonna, former regional president of the American Cancer Society. His organization was behind a successful ballot effort to ban smoking in public places.

Sandy Bahr is chapter director of the Sierra Club, which has been involved in various ballot fights including a ban on leghold traps on public lands and creating an optional system of public financing for state and local elections.

And the Animal Defense League helped get voter approval of a ban on “gestation crates” for calves and pigs.

Desai said all the plaintiffs do have an interest because she believes having to live under the strict compliance standard will make the initiative process more expensive. For example, she said, if innocent mistakes can have every petition voided, organizers may decide they don’t want to use volunteers.

“So you may have to move to an all paid-circulation effort because at that point you can be more assured that every ‘i’ is dotted, every ‘t’ is crossed,” she said.

“People should be doing that anyway,” Desai continued. “But you don’t spend millions of dollars on an initiative and think to yourself, ‘This is going to get thrown out for some minor defect.’ ”

The lawsuit is only one side of the effort to kill the new law.

A separate referendum drive has been launched to prevent the law from taking effect. If backers gather 75,321 valid signatures of registered voters before Aug. 9, the measure remains on “hold” until voters decide in November 2018 whether to ratify or reject what lawmakers have enacted.


  1. Cantelme’s argument falls flat. The very elimination of a given right is a psychic as well as political and potentially, commercial hurt experienced by its victims. In fact, Arizona’s society as a whole will suffer as a result of restrictions on our constitutionally granted rights, including authoring and championing initiatives. Further, underscoring our state’s authoritarian character and our legislature’s arbitrariness as does this legislation will make it even more difficult to get progressive corporations — those fastest growing and most prosperous — to set up shop here, because people will not want to live here. These may be difficult concepts for Cantelme and his clients to comprehend, given their hostile approach to citizens’ rights and democracy. But others who might invest and move here get it. If the courts don’t reverse the anti-initiative laws, it will end up costing Arizona and Arizonans plenty in ways their authors never thought of.

  2. Hmmm? Interesting that Roopali Desai was the attorney representing the Arizona Restaurant Association’s court challenge to Prop 206 initiative signatures in 2016, but now suddenly represents the challengers to the Legislature’s recently enacted laws requiring strict compliance to initiative standards. The same Judge Joshua Rogers, threw out more than 53,000 signatures on the 206 initiative petitions but ruled that because attorney Desai and the ARA had filed their challenge too late, the multifaceted minimum wage and PTO Entitlement-for-All, Prop 206 would proceed to the voters. Desai back then declared that Arizona voters were, “… forced to cast their votes for a deficient initiative, one besieged with statutory noncompliance …”. I’m confused, or is there something “sinister” that I’m missing?

  3. The restaurateurs just will not give up until higher wages for their pitifully paid workers are rescinded. Like Trump, always revisiting the last election.

    Maybe Desai is in the best position to defend the initiative process, having been on both sides of the issue. Hmm?

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