May 13, 2020
By Timothy Sandefur and Victor Riches
In a huge win for Arizonans across the state, this morning the Arizona Supreme Court rejected a bid by leftwing activists to change the state’s election laws to allow online signature-gathering for ballot initiatives. The lawsuit was devised to circumvent the state’s signature gathering requirements for initiatives—measures that, if passed into law, the Legislature is permanently prohibited from altering.
That’s a consequence of the so-called Voter Protection Act, a law passed over two decades ago, which makes it effectively impossible to repeal or amend initiatives once they’re passed. As the Goldwater Institute explained in its brief, the Act essentially makes initiatives a one-way street for Arizonans—which makes it imperative that the procedural rules for placing initiatives on the ballot be scrupulously followed.
Instead, the left sought to game the system by taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic. They wanted to fast-track to the ballot the largest tax increase in Arizona history, a ban on school choice, restrictions on free speech, and the elimination of safeguards in our signature gathering process—all without bearing the inconvenience of actually having to speak with Arizona voters. It was a clever, if shifty, maneuver—one the Supreme Court fortunately saw through.
In the long run, the Court’s decision is also a powerful signal that a temporary crisis cannot be used as an excuse for politicizing the rules of elections. The plaintiffs argued that because the pandemic supposedly made it harder to obtain signatures, courts should simply change the rules. But altering election laws in the midst of a crisis is a dangerous idea—and allowing it would set a precedent that could undermine the stability of our constitutional system.
Today’s decision included no written opinion—the Court indicated that will be released later—but it follows on the heels of a federal court decision that also refused to change the state’s election laws. That case, too, found that there was nothing unconstitutional about requiring actual, in-person signatures for ballot initiatives; after all, that requirement does not prevent anyone from expressing an opinion. In fact, the system was specifically designed to ensure that in-person signature gathering occur in order to limit frivolous initiatives from appearing on the ballot.
The importance of maintaining integrity in our initiative process cannot be overstated. And the voters have every right to expect that major policy changes are not given special privileges simply because the supporters of massive tax increases and other ill-conceived measures don’t want to actually talk to voters and collect signatures. We’ll have more to say about today’s ruling when the Court issues its in-depth opinion. In the meantime, you can learn more about the case at our case page.