April 15, 2021
By Jenna Bentley
A new Arizona law backed by the Goldwater Institute will help make the state’s voters more aware of just how long-lasting—and unchangeable—their votes could be.
Yesterday, Governor Doug Ducey signed SB 1497, the Voter Protection Act Notice Requirement into law, which will require disclosures to be printed on election materials to alert voters to the Voter Protection Act’s stringent requirements regarding ballot initiatives. Why is this important? Because the Voter Protection Act makes it extremely tough to change a voter-passed initiative—and voters have a right to know that.
Enacted in 1998 by ballot measure (Prop 105), the Voter Protection Act (VPA) prohibits the Arizona legislature from making changes to statutes passed at the ballot without a three-fourths supermajority vote and requires that any legislative change further the original purpose of the initiative. This means that the legislature cannot repeal a voter-protected initiative. Indeed, because of the supermajority and furtherance requirements, even small technical changes are exceedingly difficult to pass. Thus, because of the VPA, once an initiative is passed at the ballot, Arizona citizens are in practical effect stuck with its terms in perpetuity.
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, such as those that violate private property rights or substantially increase taxes. In the case of tax increases passed at the ballot, the VPA also prevents the legislature from being able make critical adjustments in times of recession.
Additionally, Arizona is the only state in the nation that requires a furtherance clause in addition to a supermajority vote to amend or repeal a voter initiative. This leaves Arizona in a dangerous position of not being able to amend or correct language that has passed at the ballot without considerable difficulty. And even the best-intentioned ballot measures can have unintended consequences or mistakes in the way the language is written.
Fortunately, under SB 1497, sponsored by Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita, voters will be made aware of the impacts of the VPA. The bill requires 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 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 stringent requirements.
Thanks to SB 1497, Arizona voters will be better informed of the consequences a ballot measure can have beyond the language within the measure itself. That’s an important step in the right direction for democracy in the Grand Canyon State.
Jenna Bentley is the Director of Government Affairs at the Goldwater Institute.