Arizona GOP aims to tighten ballot measure rules

Arizona GOP aims to tighten ballot measure rules
© Moriah Ratner

Irritated by a raft of progressive measures making their way onto the ballot in recent years, Arizona Republicans are moving to implement new rules on those who hope to craft public policy through direct democracy.

State Rep. Vince Leach (R) said Monday he would introduce legislation to overhaul Arizona’s ballot initiative system to require supporters of such measures to meet higher standards — and limit the number of people who can collect signatures to qualify an initiative.

Leach’s legislation would bar ballot measure supporters from paying vendors for each signature they collect. Anyone circulating a petition would have to complete an online class and undergo a background check, and those convicted of any crime involving fraud or identity theft would be barred from circulating petitions.

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The goal, Leach said, is to restore trust and integrity to the system of direct democracy that many Republicans believe is ripe for abuse.

“Simply put, Arizonans have lost confidence in our initiative process,” Leach said in a statement introducing the bill. “Far from being a citizen-driven form of direct democracy, special interests have hijacked our initiative process and made it rife with fraud, forgery and fabrications.”

Democrats and progressive groups say the measure represents an explicit shot at efforts to advance liberal policy proposals in a state still dominated by Republicans. In recent years, state voters have twice approved measures to raise the minimum wage and once to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. A measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use on last year’s ballot failed.

The new restrictions come after Republicans objected to Proposition 206, the 2016 ballot measure that raised the minimum wage. Business groups sued to block the proposition’s implementation, though those suits foundered.

“We’re currently facing a coordinated attack on our constitutional rights via the ballot measure process,” Josselyn Berry of Progress Now Arizona, which backed the wage hike, said. “Voters have clearly spoken that they support the initiative process time and time again in Arizona.”

Leach’s legislation is one of a handful that would change Arizona’s ballot initiative process. The Republican-led legislature will also consider bills giving them the power to alter voter-passed initiatives, block initiative supporters from accepting out-of-state contributions and implement new signature requirements that would make it more difficult for initiatives to make the ballot.

“The ballot measure process is a constitutional right that Arizonans hold dear because it allows voters to override politicians’ bad decisions,” Berry said in an email. “Now the legislature wants to manipulate the rules to take that right away, because a broad coalition of voters used it successfully to pass legislation they don’t like.”