March 17, 2020
By Jenna Bentley
Even the best-intentioned ballot measures can have unintended consequences or mistakes in the way the language is written. But thanks to a clause that severely limits the Legislature’s ability to change the wording of a measure, Arizona is in the dangerous position of not being able to amend or correct language that has passed at the ballot without considerable difficulty. Now, a bill headed to the Arizona House could help make voters more aware of the law—and the potential implications that their votes on ballot measures could hold.
In 1998, Arizona enacted the Voter Protection Act (VPA) making Arizona the only state in the nation to require any legislative changes to an initiative to further the original intent of the language (meaning it can never be repealed by the legislature) in addition to a supermajority vote to amend. Measures passed at the ballot can only be repealed by another ballot initiative. Unfortunately, many Arizonans are not aware of the strict requirements of the VPA when they vote on ballot measures. These initiatives can have monumental (and in some cases, disastrous) consequences for our state.
Fortunately, a simple, commonsense notice requirement to help inform voters of Arizona’s VPA has passed the Senate and will soon be headed to the House floor. SB1020 will require that a disclosure be printed once on all ballot forms, political signs, publicity pamphlets, and legislative council analysis notifying voters of the effects of the VPA on voter-passed initiatives. This language is pulled directly from Prop 105 in its procedural description: “Notice: pursuant to proposition 105 (1998), these measures can never be changed in the future if approved on the ballot except by a three-fourths vote of the members of each house of the legislature and if the change furthers the purpose of the original ballot measure, or by referring the change to the ballot.”
This bill does not change the VPA and maintains that right of voters to the initiative process while providing voters fair notice of the VPA’s strict requirements.
Surely, if this provision was written into a proposition itself, it would appear in the summary due to its drastic effects. Arizona’s VPA is unlike any other in the country; because of this, the importance of telling voters about it warrants its presence on the ballot—not hidden in a publicity pamphlet few people read. Suppressing highly relevant information, like the existence of the VPA, keeps voters from making fully informed decisions.
Any arguments claiming that a person’s potential mistrust of the government, coupled with knowledge of Arizona’s VPA, will somehow influence their vote is disingenuous. We have no sincerely held belief requirements prior to voting. Therefore, any argument that a voter’s potential mistrust of the Legislature’s limited ability to make changes to initiatives are undemocratic. Finally, concerns that this one-line addition will somehow create multiple-page ballots, or cause voter confusion, also are with little merit. It is the same as saying that it’s better to withhold vital information from voters, then to risk them not understanding it. And that’s a disturbing argument.
Please vote YES to SB1020 on the House floor and ensure that voters are informed of our unique Voter Protection Act.
Jenna Bentley is the Director of Government Affairs at the Goldwater Institute.