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Modest proposal to protect citizen rights to petition

Section 5. The right of petition, and of the people peaceably to assemble for the common good shall never be abridged. – Arizona Constitution 

Anyone who’s been involved with an Arizona petition drive for a constitutional amendment, initiative or referendum might very well say that the “right of petition” has already been abridged.  

The number and scope of laws governing Arizona petitions enacted by the Legislature has expanded dramatically, designed to make petitioning more difficult for citizens. The most recent examples are the “strict compliance” statutes.  

The application of these statutes has limited the ability of citizens to legislate as contemplated and supported by the Arizona Constitution. 

Since we can’t change the strict compliance traps without majorities in both the Arizona House and Senate and approval of the governor, it seems that the only rational way of dealing with this matter is to reconfigure how many signatures are required.  

That means a difficult, expensive constitutional amendment campaign waged under the current laws but, hopefully, the last one needed to solve this problem. That said, the cost and effort to make this change is worthwhile and reflects the progressive spirit of the Constitution as enacted in 1912. More to the point, this change will open the petition process to more citizens – protected from the Legislature. 

(Alternatively, but not likely, the Legislature could place this change of the Constitution directly on the ballot without signature collection.) 

To directly change the percentage of signatures required currently by the Constitution — Constitutional amendment (15%); initiative (10%); or referendum (5%) – would be complicated and need a few pages on clipboards to meet statutory requirements. 

However, there is a more direct, uncomplicated, but still challenging approach. 

A Constitutional amendment would simply change the number of “qualified electors” from all of the votes cast for governor to the “majority” of votes cast. The effect would be to reduce the number of valid ballot measure signatures required for certification while adhering to the Legislature’s “strict compliance” requirements.   

Here’s what the amendment would look like by simply inserting a four-word phrase in the paragraph defining who can legally sign a petition and what the effect would be: 

Article IV Sec 1 (7) Number of qualified electors. The majority of votes cast for governor at the general election last preceding the filing of any Constitutional amendment, initiative or referendum petition on a state or county measure shall be the basis on which the number of qualified electors required to sign such petition shall be computed. 

This change would reduce the number of signatures needed for citizens to exercise their right to petition, making it much more likely that citizens would be able to make legislative decisions. 

In 2014 for example, the total number of votes cast for governor was 1,431,983. That number has been used as the basis for computing the signature requirements to meet constitutional requirements. However, Gov. Doug Ducey’s majority vote total was only 805,062. 

Here’s a comparison of the current signatures required and the proposed majority signature requirement. A minimum 30% “buffer” is generally needed to account for signatures being disallowed.  

chart    

In addition to lower signature requirements, the estimated cost reduction to a campaign is considerable. Assuming it takes an average $2 per signature – including both paid and volunteer circulators – savings for statewide campaigns could mean the difference between Arizona citizens being able to vote on a ballot measure or not. 

Robert Grossfeld is president of POLITICARE and The Media Guys and has 30 years of experience as an award winning, political strategist and media consultant.  

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