In the first half of 2022, over 400,000 Arizonans signed petitions to place the Arizona Fair Elections Act on the ballot this November. The ballot initiative would safeguard Arizonans’ freedom to vote and ensure that the will of voters prevails over partisan actors attempting to seize power for themselves.
Arizonans have the right to decide these crucial questions about how to protect and strengthen our democracy. The state’s petition circulation process provides an avenue for Arizona voters to enact or reject laws like the Arizona Fair Elections Act by popular vote. To put the initiative to a statewide vote this November, Arizonans for Free and Fair Elections (the Committee) was required to submit petitions from at least 237,645 signatures from registered voters. On July 7, 2022, they delivered more than 400,000.
That staggering number reflects both the dutiful efforts of those gathering petition signatures and Arizona voters’ high level of interest in ensuring free and fair elections in their state. Unsurprisingly, the special interests whose influence would be curtailed by the initiative are less enthusiastic.
Indeed, seeking to keep the measure off Arizonans’ ballots this November, the special interest group Arizona Free Enterprise Club — along with two individuals — filed suit to invalidate nearly 80% of the signatures submitted by the Committee based on an unfounded and extreme interpretation of Arizona’s requirements for petition circulators.
For example, the complaint calls for disqualifying any petition sheets where the person who collected signatures did not include their registration number on both sides of the sheet.
In other words, the plaintiffs in this case seek to invalidate the work of scores of petition circulators and the voices of hundreds of thousands of Arizonans for exceedingly minor errors and omissions, like including a registration number on only one side of a tally sheet.
A state trial court rejected many of the plaintiffs’ frivolous objections. On August 22, 2022, CLC filed an amicus brief in the Arizona Supreme Court in support of the Committee, stressing the robust constitutional protections for the petition circulation process and the serious harm posed by the plaintiffs’ attempts to do an end run around it.
What’s at Stake?
The plaintiffs’ bid to invalidate the majority of the signatures gathered in support of the Arizona Fair Elections Act poses grave threats to our democracy. Their unfounded objections not only threaten Arizonans’ right to have a say on an issue of utmost importance this November but also the First Amendment rights of petition circulators and petition signers alike.
The First Amendment has long protected the collection of signatures to qualify ballot initiatives as “core political speech,” as signature gatherers conduct the important work of engaging with and educating the electorate. As such, the Supreme Court has held that restrictive circulation polices, like the ones put forward in this lawsuit, may unconstitutionally limit the signature collector’s political expression.
Additionally, the Supreme Court has recognized that petition signatures — like votes — are a means for citizens to participate directly in our democracy. As a result, the free speech and free expression rights of petition signers would be violated if the plaintiffs succeed in invalidating hundreds of thousands of Arizonans’ signatures which favored placing the Arizona Free Elections Act on the ballot based on technical errors.
Voters deserve to have a say on the issues that matter to them. Invalidating hundreds of thousands of signatures based on minor technical errors clearly violates the free speech rights of signature collectors, the signers themselves and every Arizonan who wants to strengthen our democracy.