An Arizona Supreme Court ruling today said that initiative campaigns cannot use the E-Qual website to gather voters’ signatures online to qualify for the ballot that candidates for state offices use for their nominating petitions.
Vice Chief Justice Ann Scott Timmer was the only justice who voted for the intiatives to be able to use the same system, and she noted that some of the proposed ballot intiatives could be doomed if they are unable to gather signatures in person during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an Arizona Republic article.
“Because the Court did not provide their full opinion with the ruling they issued today, we do not know the reason for their denial,” said Roopali Desai, an election attorney with Coppersmith Brockelman PLC representing the initiative campaigns, in an interview with AZEdNews.
“All we know is that all but one Justice voted to deny Arizonans the right to sign initiative petitions online, even though it is already used for candidate nomination petition signatures and even though it would provide voters with a safe way to participate in the democratic process during this unprecedented pandemic,” Desai said.
The decision impacts four plaintiffs, including education advocates trying to get the Invest in Education Act and the Save Our Schools Act initiatives on the ballot Arizona voters will see for the November 2020 general election.
It is with heavy hearts that we announce the suspension of the Arizonans for Fair Elections ballot initiative campaign. Please see our statement for information on our decision and next steps. pic.twitter.com/lP5ESmhXUN— Arizonans For Fair Elections (@AZFairElections) May 13, 2020
“It is very disappointing that the Arizona Supreme Court, Attorney General, and Legislature repeatedly make it harder for voters to exercise their constitutional right to initiate laws,” Desai said. “Fortunately, the will of the voters in Arizona is strong and they are committed to working harder than ever to qualify their measure for the ballot.”
“The need for education funding has never been more apparent in Arizona,” said Rebecca Gau, executive director of Stand for Children Arizona, in an interview with AZEdNews.
If the Invest in Education Act is approved by voters, then individuals earning more than $250,000 a year and households earning more than $500,000 a year would pay a 3.5 percent surcharge on the taxable income they earn in excess of $250,000 for individuals or $500,000 for households. Based on Arizona Department of Revenue models, it would generate $940 million annually for teachers, counselors, therapists, support staff, vocational education and other critical services, said David Lujan, director of The Arizona Center for Economic Progress, who helped draft the initiative.
But Save Our Schools Arizona said they will suspend voter signature collection efforts for the Save Our Schools Act Initiative.
“It would not have been difficult for the Court to grant voters both safety and their Constitutional rights, but today, they refused to do that despite the immediate availability of the E-Qual online signature collection system and the ongoing rise in Coronavirus cases and deaths across Arizona,” Save Our Schools Arizona said in a statement on social media.
“As a grassroots volunteer organizations, we do not have multiple millions of dollars to fund paid signature collection, nor are we willing to endanger our friends, neighbors, grandmothers, brothers and colleagues who make up the Save Our Schools Arizona volunteer network,” according to Save our Schools Arizona’s statement.
Video by Morgan Willis/AZEdNews: SOS Arizona volunteers at Feb. 26 kick-off event
The Save Our Schools Act, if approved by voters, would have limited Empowerment Scholarship Account expansion, required unused voucher money to be returned each year, limited the size of the ESA program to 1 percent of the total Arizona student population, given priority access for ESAs to students with disabilities, and required that all private schools, tutors and aides paid with ESA voucher funds be located in Arizona.
Instead, Save Our Schools Arizona will now commit to protect voter reforms and limits to private school vouchers in Arizona through legislative referral or a future voter initiative, promote and support anti-voucher candidates on the November 2020 ballot and educate Arizona voters on the value of supporting public schools.
Despite the court ruling, the Invest in Education Act Coalition said they will continue to collect voters’ signatures in person with pen and paper and by mailing petitions to voters’ who request it and that they are on pace to gather the 238,000 valid voter signatures required to be submitted by July 2, 2020 to qualify for the November 2020 ballot.
“We are not surprised. We knew this case was an uphill battle,” Gau said. “There was strong opposition from the Attorney General and Arizona Legislature to allow voters an opportunity to exercise their constitutional right.”
Video by Morgan Willis/AZEdnews: Invest in Ed Initiative announced Jan. 13, 2020
Volunteers are also hosting petition stations across the state where supporters can sign an Invest in Ed petition, pick up a new petition, or bring petitions they’ve collected to be notarized and turned in. Volunteers are also signing up to send text messages or to make phone calls to voters about the initiative.
“Supporters are definitely disappointed (in the court’s decision), but also feel confident that we can get the signatures needed ‘the old fashioned way,'” Gau said. “Invest in Ed gathered as many signatures in five weeks, and supporters have continued to work hard this whole time.”