Voter Initiatives Under Threat
by Abby Brill
One great thing about our Arizona Constitution is the provision for voter initiatives.
If enough validated petition signatures are collected, citizens can bypass the Legislature to pass laws. There are currently 25 voter or ballot initiative groups seeking a place on the November 2020 ballot. Currently we have a system called E-Qual which permits candidates for legislative, statewide and federal office to collect up to half the signatures needed to qualify for the ballot via the web. However, signatures for voter initiatives must be collected in person, not online.
The social-distancing and stay-at-home order that Covid-19 make necessary have put a virtual halt to these efforts.
Mamta Popat, AZ Daily Star
Lawyers for four of these initiatives have filed suit asking the Arizona Supreme Court to allow them to gather the required signatures online. They argue that the Covid restrictions have made it effectively impossible to collect signatures in person. The law contains the provision that the right to make laws is not exclusive to the Legislature, and since voters cannot exercise their rights in this respect due to Covid, an exception should be made to allow online collection.
These are the four groups involved in the suit:
Save Our Schools Arizona seeks a limit on the number of vouchers using public funds that can go toward sending students to private or parochial schools.
Invest in Education seeks a surcharge on individuals whose incomes exceed $250k to provide funding for public K-12 education.
Smart and Safe Arizona hopes to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.
Arizonans for Second Chances, Rehabilitation and Public Safety seeks to give judges more discretion in sentencing and providing more earned-release credits for inmates.
The E-Qual system has proved reliable in linking with voter-registration records, including signature images, and enabling validation. If someone who is not registered to vote wants to sign an online petition, the E-Qual site directs them to ServiceArizona.com to update their voter registration. A registered voter logs in to E-Qual with a full name, date of birth, driver's-license number or voter ID number, and the last four digits of their Social Security number. This information is verified through the Motor Vehicle Division and registration records. Then, based on the address and party affiliation, the voter sees the list of petitions they can sign online.
Voter initiative groups stand to benefit enormously from being allowed to gather signatures online. Single-issue initiatives by their very nature get the attention of voters, who tend to respond to these calls to action. On the other side, some political action committees disseminate false and inflammatory information about initiatives to discourage voter support.
There's no disagreement that being able to sign ballot initiative petitions online would be a great benefit to Arizona voters in terms of putting their policy desires on the ballot. Engaged voters would have much easier access to the nomination process, and not-yet-registered individuals can then easily register.
Online signature-gathering would be a clear game-changer for ballot initiatives if the state Legislature is brave enough to allow it. Evidence has shown that suppressing voting rights often benefits those in power. If allowing online signatures for voter initiatives is something you support, contact your state representatives and let them know.
Check out the E-Qual website here.
Abby Brill is editor of 5enses.