Defend Democracy

I believe in Democracy.

I believe in the will of the people.*

Arizona has one of the best and boldest referendum and initiative processes in the nation.  And our legislature can’t stand it.

To briefly recap over a hundred years of history: Arizona has one of the most generous and most used citizen referendum and initiative process.  It has been part of our constitution since statehood in 1912. The very first initiative was for women’s suffrage. It passed by a 2-to-1 margin.

The referendum process allows the citizens of the state to veto the actions of the legislature.  It currently takes 75,321 signatures to create a veto referendum. By contrast, a voter initiative allows citizens to pass a statute. It currently takes 150,642 signatures to get an initiative on the ballot (and a whopping 225,963 signatures to have a constitutional amendment on the ballot).

Since 1916, the legislature had attempted to end the voter initiative and referendum process. This year, it dealt the process the biggest blow yet: strict compliance. Nearly a century, the petitions to place voter referenda and initiatives were judged on the standard of “substantial compliance.” Does a voter’s signature go outside the lines? No big deal. Did a voter abbreviate Phx. instead of spelling out the greatest state capital in the United States? That’s fine too.

Until this year.

As a result of HB 2244, now every state initiative must meet “strict compliance.” Your signature will not count if you make a range of mistakes from signing with your first initial, to going outside of the lines, to failing to print in sans-serif 10-point Helvetica font (I may have made up one of those requirements). So when you hear people circulating petitions and obsessing over these issues, it is for this reason.

Here’s the kicker: this has nothing to do with democracy.

There is nothing about a perfect signature that makes the process more fair; there is nothing about spelling out “Phoenix” that makes a petition more valid. Instead, this is aimed at undoing Arizona’s tradition of direct democracy.

Take a second to breathe in the breathtaking hypocrisy that candidate petitions (the petitions that place our own legislators and candidates on the ballot) are not held to the same standards. Also, note that while you can gather candidate signatures online via the verified e-qual system, there is no online equivalent for voter initiatives.

I heard the arguments for curtailing voter initiatives. I am not convinced. Our legislators claim that voters experience “ballot fatigue.” Somehow we, as voters, are not able understand the substance of the issues before us, or understand the implications of our own decisions.

I say, stop undermining democracy.

Our Arizona Constitution is designed to place voters “on equal footing with the Arizona Legislature” through the initiative and referendum process.** We need legislators who respect voters enough to stop undermining their power.



*Some exceptions apply. See the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendment for details. Consult your Constitution before attempting to discriminate against a protected class.

**Ariz. State Legis. v. Ariz. Indep. Redistricting Comm’n, 135 S. Ct. 2652, 2655 (2015)

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