CLC Defends Arizonans’ Right to Shape Democracy Through Ballot Initiatives

A man and woman lean over a piece of paper on a table while the woman writes on it
Volunteers in Arizona collect signatures for a ballot initiative on May 28, 2022. Photo by Rebecca Noble/Reuters

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Arizona Supreme Court to try to ensure that Arizonans’ voices are heard when it comes to the issues that will directly impact their lives. The brief aims to protect the First Amendment rights of those who gather and sign petitions to place an initiative on the ballot. 

The lawsuit is occurring over a ballot initiative known as the Arizona Fair Elections Act, which aims to safeguard Arizonans’ freedom to vote and prevent election manipulation, allowing the will of the voters to prevail over politicians seeking to change the rules of the game for their own political gain.  

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. By the July 7th deadline, they had far exceeded that number, gathering the signatures of over 400,000 Arizonans.  

However, the special interest group Arizona Free Enterprise Club — along with two individuals — have filed a lawsuit 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.  

These unfounded objections threaten not only 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, since petition gatherers conduct the important work of engaging and educating the electorate. Restrictive policies, like the ones put forward in the lawsuit, hinder the political expression of signature collectors.  

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that petition signatures, like votes, are a way for citizens to participate in democracy.

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. 

Kate Hamilton is a Legal Fellow at CLC.
Protecting Arizonans' Freedom to Vote