With the primaries done this month, we’re already nearly halfway through the 2022 election cycle. An important and too-often overlooked part of elections in Arizona is our voter-initiative process, in which voters work to enact legislation directly, by qualifying for the ballot and campaigning for their causes.
This process gives voters the right to weigh in and make or repeal laws regardless of the Legislature or the Governor’s office. The very detailed qualifying rules make it difficult, however, and legal challenges by related interests and the Legislature make the process a gauntlet requiring hard, careful work and determination to get through.
In July three initiatives qualified for the November ballot, addressing the issues of dark money, election integrity and predatory debt collections. Here we have summaries of their purposes and solutions, to help voters prepare for November, assembled with help from longtime initiative organizer and volunteer Diane McQueen.
The Voter’s Right to Know Act
Since the Citizen’s United decision in 2010, money contributed to political campaigns is considered political speech, and individuals, corporations and qualifying organizations can make those contributions anonymously. This keeps voters from broadly understanding who or what interests are behind a given campaign.
Nicknamed Stop Dark Money, this voter initiative would require any individual, corporation, partnership or association that spends more than $50,000 in a statewide campaign, or $25,000 in any other campaign, for campaign media during an election cycle to identify the original source of every contribution over $5,000, within five days of the first spending and/or accepting in-kind contributions totaling the threshold amount. Subsequent reports must be filed within three days each time an additional $25,000 is spent and/or the acceptance of an in-kind contribution of $25,000 or more for a statewide campaign, or $15,000 for any other campaign, for spending on public media. It will not apply to candidate committees or any group that can legally accept unlimited contributions but voluntarily agrees to not accept contributions over $20,000.
Stop Dark Money, led by former Phoenix mayor and attorney general Terry Goddard, has been campaigning to get this initiative before the voters since 2017. “Dark money comes swooping in with feel-good names like Americans for Peanut Butter,” Goddard told Laurie Roberts of The Arizona Republic. “It tells you absolutely nothing about what they believe or what interests they are trying to promote.” More at stopdarkmoney.com.
The Arizonans for Free and Fair Elections Act
This legislative initiative addresses a long list of voter rights and would take down barriers to voting for all Arizonans, such as restoring recent changes to the Permanent Early Voting List to prevent surprise removal of voters, providing for same-day and automatic voter registration and updating through the Motor Vehicle Department, and extending in-person early voting through the day before Election Day. It would better protect the rights of tribal voters by requiring tribal input on voting hours and polling locations. For voters with disabilities it would add curbside voting. It will better protect ballot-measure petition signatures from judicial review, and prevent the Legislature from overriding election results.
Other provisions are designed to reduce corruption and the influence of money on elections. More at azfe.org.
Update: Following a legal challenge by the Arizona Free Enterprise Club and other opponents of the initiaitve, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled on August 26 that the Arizonans for Free and Fair Elections Act campaign did not gather enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.
The AZ Protection from Predatory Debt Collection Act
With over a sixth of Arizonans carrying some past-due medical debt and the high cost of health care, medical debt is a big problem for many families, and high interest rates and bankruptcy rules that allow collecting agencies to go after homes, cars and bank accounts push many into more debt, employment difficulty and bankruptcy.
The Predatory Debt Collection Protection Act will address this problem by increasing the protected value of homes, household goods, bank accounts and vehicles. It will also limit wage garnishment for debt, and cap interest on medical debt, set both by collecting organizations and under court judgments, to protect more of the debtors’ assets from being sold to pay collectors, ensuring that families are able to hold on to more of their bank accounts and wages, and limiting the interest rates that trap families in unending cycles of debt. More at healthcarerisingaz.org.
The Secretary of State’s office released statistical estimates of what each initiative campaign committee submitted to the SOS office up to the submission deadline of July 7. The office will scan the petitions and each committee will receive a receipt with the exact number of petitions and signatures submitted.
After receiving the petitions on July 7, the Secretary of State has until August 4 to remove ineligible initiative petition sheets and signatures and then transmit a random 5% sample to each of the 15 county recorders. The recorders then have till August 25 to verify petition signatures and provide certified results to the Secretary of State.
The Secretary of State then has until August 30 to determine initiative petition results for a random sample, issue a receipt to the sponsoring committee, and notify the Governor as to whether enough valid, eligible signatures were gathered to qualify for the November ballot. This is when the legal challenges by opposition groups will start, including challenges by the committees to the county results. The Secretary of State has till September 26 to mail/email a Publicity Pamphlet to the address of every registered voter.