Voters to decide on measure that changes citizen initiative process

citizen's initiative, ballot, House, Livingston, De Los Santos, Salman

Legislative Republicans are asking voters to make it harder to put voter initiatives on the ballot. (Photo by Pexels)

Voters to decide on measure that changes citizen initiative process

Legislative Republicans are asking voters to make it harder to put voter initiatives on the ballot.

Ballot initiatives and referendums have long been a practice for Arizona voters to change the Constitution while bypassing the state Legislature. What is needed to put an item on the ballot is to get 10% of signatures from people who voted in the last gubernatorial election.

On Monday, House Republicans passed a measure on party lines that would require 10% of signatures from voters in each of the state’s 30 legislative districts if approved by voters, meaning one district could prevent an initiative from reaching the ballot.

Democrats opposed the resolution, SCR 1015, and said they were concerned it would give one district veto power over the rest of the state.

“That’s wrong. That’s antithetical to the citizen initiative process. That’s antithetical to our direct democracy and if I come from a rural area, I don’t see why I’d hand over that power to the voters of Maricopa County, who comprise of the majority of qualified electors,” said Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe.

Weakening Maricopa County’s influence is exactly the point, said Rep. David Livingston, R-Peoria. He said the resolution would prevent Maricopa County from dictating a statewide vote. The 2020 census estimates about 62% of the state’s population resides in Maricopa County.

“We need to recognize that the counties outside Maricopa matter and this makes sure the other 14 counties matter,” Livingston said.

Ratification of an initiative wouldn’t be affected. Once an item makes it on the ballot, all voters of the state have a chance to weigh in on the proposal.

Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, told the House Municipal Oversight and Elections Committee on March 8 that although he would like to extend ratification requirements of needing a certain threshold from all legislative districts, he wasn’t sure if that would be constitutional.

Mesnard also referenced other states that have passed similar policy for voting initiatives. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 13 states have some kind of geographic requirement to put an item on the ballot as of January 2022.

“The proposal does not require any buy-in from all over the state,” Mesnard said on March 8. “Even if they have a voice in the ratification, they can still be run over at that point.”

The measure also passed in the Senate on party lines in February. Because it’s a resolution, a signature from Gov. Katie Hobbs isn’t necessary. Instead, it’ll be transmitted to Secretary of State Adrian Fontes and be up to voters to decide as a referendum.

If passed, Salman said the resolution would make it “nearly impossible” to put a citizen initiative on the ballot. Several of the states that have enacted similar law don’t require a signature threshold from all counties of the state, or have as high of a threshold as 10%. Ohio requires 3% of the votes cast in the governor’s race from the most recent election in half of the state’s counties. New Mexico has a 10% threshold, but only from 75% of its counties.

Rep. Oscar De Los Santos, D-Laveen, said Monday that the resolution was “nonsensical” and compared it to the Legislature needing a member from each district to vote in favor of a bill in order to pass it.

“Simple majority folks. One person, one vote, majority wins. That’s how democracies are supposed to work. But this bill, which is a far-right, MAGA extremist idea, comes in here and what it does is create one set of rules for the politicians and an entirely different set of rules for the people,” De Los Santos said.

The resolution would also affect the 15% threshold to propose an amendment to the Arizona Constitution and 5% threshold to order a submission of the people to the polls to vote on an act of the Legislature. Those statewide figures would be changed to each legislative district if Mesnard’s resolution is approved.