And so it begins — citizen initiatives file signatures for November ballot
We’re one step closer to knowing which citizen-led initiatives will appear before Arizona voters this November.
For campaigns backing each measure, yesterday was the deadline to file signatures—the first major hurdle toward qualifying for the ballot. According to the Secretary of State’s Office, four groups were able to meet the minimum threshold of signatures, despite the massive challenges COVID-19 has created for petition circulators' access to voters. In Arizona, the number of signatures needed to place a measure on the ballot is based on the total number of votes cast for the governor in the preceding election. Because voter turnout in 2018 was so much higher than previous years, campaigns had to collect at least 237,000 signatures (compared to the 150,000 required two years ago). On top of that, campaigns need a solid “cushion” for rejected signatures (the bigger the cushion, the less likely it is to get knocked off the ballot through a court challenge), so the magic number was actually closer to 340,000 signatures this year. All four groups easily cleared that benchmark.
So, what exactly does this mean? Well, filing day is just one of many steps in an initiative’s long road to the ballot box. The next hurdle for each of these campaigns will be signature verification—a process in which the Secretary of State’s Office will take a sample of the filed signatures and use that to extrapolate how many of the hundreds of thousands of signatures can be deemed valid (and, therefore, how many will count toward the minimum benchmark). All four groups will likely pass this initial verification process, given that each has quite a bit of cushion in the event that some signatures are deemed invalid.
But even after clearing signature verification, initiatives are still only in the third or fourth inning, with plenty of ballgame left to lose. One of the biggest hurdles will likely play out in the courts, where validity of signatures and circulators are often challenged. If an initiative survives the court challenge, then we can expect it to appear on the ballot (we’ll usually know by late August)—and that’s when things really start to heat up between the “yes” and “no” campaigns. Particularly this year, we could be looking at a few highly contentious — and extremely expensive — battles right up until voters make the final call in November.
If you’re wondering what types of political ads you'll be bombarded with over the next four months, here’s a quick overview of the initiatives that successfully filed yesterday:
Smart and Safe Arizona (I-23-2020)
Seeks to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, allowing adults (21+) to possess as much as an ounce of marijuana, and proposes a 16% excise tax (the same as cigarettes and alcohol), with new revenues directed mostly toward community colleges and public safety. Also requires the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) to establish recreational marijuana regulations on or before June 1, 2021. You can find the full text here.
Backed by one of the most well-funded PACs in the state, which has raised more than $2.7 million thanks to donations from large-scale dispensaries, the campaign submitted 420,000 signatures (see what they did there?).
Stop Surprise Billing and Protect Patients Act (I-24-2020)
Calls for a 20% wage increase over the next four years to direct-care hospital workers, like nurses, aides, technicians, janitors, social workers, food service workers and non-managerial administrative staff. Also proposes new mandates on hospitals involving certain infection control standards and “surprise billing” protections. You can find the full text here.
Backed by SEIU-UHW West (a California-based union representing health care workers), the campaign submitted 425,000 signatures.
Invest in Education Act (I-31-2020)
Creates a 3.5% tax surcharge on incomes of more than $250,000 for individual filers and $500,000 for couples, with the revenue going to fund K-12 schools. Similar to what educators proposed two years ago, this version of the “Invest in Ed” measure would raise an estimated $940 million annually for public education. You can find the full text here.
Backed by the Arizona Education Association (AEA) and Stand for Children, the campaign submitted 435,669 signatures.
Second Chances, Rehabilitation and Public Safety Act (I-32-2020)
Seeks criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing recidivism in Arizona by expanding the existing “earned release credit” (ERC) program, allowing nonviolent offenders to reduce their sentence by 50% for participating in rehabilitation programs and maintaining good behavior. Also gives judges the discretion to hand down shorter sentences than the state's current mandatory minimums require, and directs money from the state's medical marijuana fund toward recruitment and hiring of substance-abuse counselors, mental-health coordinators and other corrections staff. You can find the full text here.
Backed by the Alliance for Safety and Justice (along with AFSC-Arizona, ACLU and other advocacy groups), the campaign submitted 397,000 signatures.