Friday, September 12, 2008

Goldwater Institute: Initiative signature verification process makes a mockery of rule of law

By Clint Bolick

The process of qualifying voter initiatives for the ballot has grown so anarchic that some likely will appear before voters that shouldn't, while at least one that probably should be on the ballot is not.

A republican form of government assumes that laws should be difficult to pass, and initiatives are no different. Our state Constitution mandates a large number of voter signatures to qualify a measure for the ballot.

Some time ago, the legislature empowered the Secretary of State to conduct a random sample to determine if initiative petitions contained sufficient valid signatures, but also mandated her to check all signatures if the sample yielded between 95-105 percent of the necessary number. But the Arizona Supreme Court, in a sloppy decision 25 years ago, ruled that if an initiative falls within that range, the Secretary of State may certify it for the ballot without checking each signature.

This year, an unusually large number of signatures were disqualified, and the Secretary of State certified some initiatives that appeared to have fewer than the minimum number of signatures required by our Constitution. We challenged the pork-laden TIME transportation initiative, whose supporters tried to qualify it with only 95 percent of the necessary signatures, but it was thrown off the ballot on technical grounds. So a court ruling on that important question awaits another day.

Meanwhile, the time for checking signatures is so compressed that the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative-which would have banned racial preferences in state government-was denied its day in court to qualify sufficient signatures because, by luck of the draw, it was the last measure to have its signatures counted, and ballots had to go to print.

All of this is a travesty. The Legislature should take two steps: (1) it should advance the date by which ballot measures should be submitted, in order to allow for careful signature counting and judicial review; and (2) it should reiterate that the Secretary of State may not certify any ballot measure she determines has fewer than the constitutionally required number of valid signatures. The current process makes a mockery of the rule of law.

Clint Bolick is the director of the Goldwater Institute Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.

Learn More:
Arizona Constitution:
Article 4, Section 1. Legislative authority; initiative and referendum
Phoenix New Times: Citizen initiatives have been kicked off the ballot this year in record numbers, and the problems could go much deeper than invalid signatures Arizona Secretary of State: Guide to 2008 Ballot Propositions & Judicial Performance Review

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