By Wade Erwin
In a state that some refer to as the “center of the fight to make voting harder,” the Arizona Supreme Court recently barred a ballot initiative that would have struck down GOP-backed election laws and practices. The court found that the Arizonans for Fair Elections ballot initiative, also known as the Arizonans for Free and Fair Elections Act, fell 1,458 signatures short of the threshold requirement for the general election ballot. Although the failed proposal cannot appear on the November 2022 ballot, the Arizonans for Fair Elections initiative evinces the tensions between Republican legislators pushing for more restrictive voting laws and the progressive interest groups who oppose these sweeping changes to Arizona’s election laws.
The Arizonans for Free and Fair Elections initiative typifies the divide between grassroots progressive organizations in Arizona and the state’s Republican General Assembly. Created as “a direct response to the Legislature,” the initiative illustrates Democrats’ turn to direct democracy to counteract the torrent of conservative voting laws. Republican members in the General Assembly viewed the initiative as such, with a Scottsdale representative arguing that “[t]hey can’t win at the Legislature so they’re going to go to the ballot and mislead the public.”
Proposed by organizations like the Arizona Democracy Resource Center, the Arizonans for Fair Elections initiative contained a variety of provisions designed to substantially alter Arizona’s election and campaign finance laws. The changes proposed under the Act included:
- adopting same-day registration at polling places;
- automatically registering those who obtain state identification cards to vote;
- substantially reducing contribution limits from $6,250 to $1,000 for local or legislative offices or $2,500 for those running for statewide office; and
- outlawing unofficial election audits.
The initiative represented an attempt by Democrats to push back against the flood of restrictive voting laws passed by the Arizona legislature in the wake of the 2020 election. More election interference bills were introduced by the state’s general assembly in 2022 than anywhere else in the country. While Arizona’s newest voter identification law garnered most of the national attention, legislators also introduced bills to limit the availability of mail ballot drop boxes and to expand faulty purge practices. The volume and breadth of these electoral regulations have made Arizona the epicenter for the debate over voting regulations today.
However, voters needed to qualify the initiative before they could vote for it on election day. Arizona state law requires that proposed initiatives amass 237,645 valid signatures by early July to earn a spot on the November ballot. Coalition groups aligned with Democrats collected an estimated 475,000 signatures before submitting it to the Maricopa County Superior Court. Although the trial court initially ruled that the initiative satisfied the signature requirement, conservative groups challenged the lower court’s methodology. The Arizona Supreme Court stated that it couldn’t verify the signature total and issued an order requiring the Superior Court to re-evaluate the count. After removing invalid and duplicate signatures, the Superior Court found that the initiative fell 1,458 signatures short of the statutory threshold. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the decision and barred the initiative from appearing on election day.
While voters won’t have a chance to weigh in on the Arizonans for Fair Elections initiative in November, the general election carries significant implications for voting rights in Arizona. With restrictive voter identification initiatives on the ballot, interested parties should continue to monitor November’s election.