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Initiative to reform Az elections gets twice as many signatures as needed to make ballot

Arizona is 'ground zero for election suppression,'` spurring the proposed ballot measure

Supporters of a sweeping effort to overhaul Arizona’s election and campaign finance laws filed more than 475,000 signatures on Thursday in hopes of qualifying for the November ballot.

“This is what democracy looks like!” bellowed Roy Tatum, the political director for Our Voice Our Vote, as he and other volunteers and supporters of the Arizona Fair Elections Act stood in the blazing summer sun just outside the shadow of the state Capitol to celebrate turning in more than twice the number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.

To qualify for the November ballot, initiative efforts had until July 7 to submit petitions with at least 237,645 signatures from registered voters. 

Tatum and other speakers made the same point over and over again: Nothing less than the future of democracy in Arizona is at stake.

The initiative measure, dubbed the Arizona Fair Elections Act, would make major changes to election law aimed at safeguarding the right to vote, outlawing unofficial election audits, bolstering citizen initiatives and referendums, expanding the state’s public campaign finance system and limiting the influence wealthy donors have on campaigns.

“This is totally a direct response to the Legislature,” said Maria Teresa Mabry, the co-executive director of the Arizona Democracy Resource Center, one of the organizations that spearheaded the initiative effort.

Mabry noted that GOP legislators have spent the past two years pushing numerous measures aimed at limiting who can vote and how, as well as taking aim at the people’s power at the ballot box. They have moved to kick people off the permanent early voting list, make it easier for elections officials to remove voters from the rolls and are asking voters this year to dilute their power by requiring ballot measures to get 60% majorities to pass.

“This isn’t just about access to the ballot,” they said. “It’s about the future of our communities.”

Tatum said that future was in peril because of Republican lawmakers who have cast measures that would disproportionately disenfranchise poor and minority voting blocs as necessary to protect the election from fraud. The result is that more than 100 “election suppression” bills were introduced in Arizona this year — about 10% of the 1,000 or so that were introduced in statehouses nationwide.

“Arizona is ground zero for election suppression,” he said.

The Arizona Fair Elections Act would represent a sea change in Arizona election law if it qualifies for the ballot and wins approval from voters. It would mandate automatic voter registration of everyone who gets a driver’s license or state ID card and would allow for same-day registration at polling places. The measure would also undo changes made in 2021 to the state’s early voting list that require election officials to stop sending early ballots to voters who don’t use them in multiple election cycles.

It would also expand the number of ballots counted: Early ballots currently must arrive at the election office by 7 p.m. on Election Day, but the proposed ballot measure would allow mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted, even if they arrive later. The measure also would expand the number of early ballots with mismatching signatures that can be “cured” by elections officials who verify the ballot’s authenticity with the voter.

Other provisions aim to protect voters’ power at the ballot box: Changes made by lawmakers in recent years to make it easier to kick citizen initiatives or referendum efforts off the ballot for technical and clerical errors would be undone. And outside groups looking to challenge a ballot measure would only be able to do so by challenging the number of valid signatures submitted, not the actual contents of the measure.

On the campaign finance front, the measure would slash contribution limits from $6,250 to either $1,000 or $2,500, depending on what office the candidate was seeking. It would also dramatically expand the amount of money candidates could receive under the Clean Elections public campaign financing system.

Clean Elections was originally designed to provide candidates who opted for public financing with additional money if their privately funded opponent’s spending hit certain thresholds, but the U.S. Supreme Court struck that provision down in 2011

The Arizona Fair Elections Act would allow Clean Elections candidates to receive up to twice as much money. But instead of triggering the supplemental funding on an opponent’s spending, which the court said violated that opponent’s First Amendment freedom of speech, the extra money would be contingent on the candidate collecting more qualifying contributions after initially receiving funding.

And unofficial election audits, like the one that the state Senate conducted for much of 2021, would be illegal if the Arizona Fair Elections Act is approved by voters.

Finally, the measure would eliminate the ability of companies to avoid paying Arizona income taxes by carrying tax credits from one year to the next. Instead, they would have to pay 4.9% of their income during the year.

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This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.


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Jim Small/Arizona Mirror

A supporter of the Arizona Free Elections Act raises a fist in solidarity as organizers addressed the media on July 7, 2022, near the state Capitol. The initiative measure would make sweeping changes to Arizona’s election and campaign finance laws if voters approve it.

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