Voters may get final word on citizen initiatives

Petition drive starts to overturn new restriction

PHOENIX — Arizona voters may get the last word on whether they want to ban paying petition circulators on a per-name basis.

Foes of HB 2404, signed last week by Gov. Doug Ducey, submitted paperwork Thursday to the secretary of state’s office which will allow them to start gathering signatures to refer the measure to the 2018 ballot. They have until 90 days after the session ends -- whenever that finally happens -- to gather at least 75,321 valid signatures.

One thing working in their favor is that because the law they oppose is not yet in effect, they can hire paid circulators and pay them according to the number of signatures they gather.

And if they get enough signatures, that puts off enforcement of the law until the 2018 election. That also means anyone who wants to launch an initiative drive for that year also will be able to contract for petition circulators on a per-signature basis.

The referendum drive is being organized by Mike Shipley. He waged an unsuccessful write-in bid for Congress in 2016 in the district represented by Democrat Kyrsten Sinema.

Shipley told Capitol Media Services it was time to try to put a stop to what lawmakers have been doing.

“I really feel like the legislature over the past several sessions has exhibited a real disregard for the electoral process,” he said. For example, he cited measures limiting the ability of groups to collect voted ballots as well as increasing the number of signatures that minor party candidates need to run for office.

And Shipley derided claims that the pay-per-signature process leads to fraud, pointing out that lawmakers refused to impose the same restrictions on their own ability to get people to sign their nominating petitions.

“They kept it really easy for themselves,” he said.

Rep. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, the sponsor of HB 2404, said he is not alarmed at the prospect of having to defend his measure at the ballot box if it comes to that. He said Shipley is simply exercising his rights under the Arizona Constitution.

Those rights include the ability of citizens to create their own laws and constitutional amendments by circulating petitions to put issues on the ballot. Leach contends HB 2404 protects against fraud; foes argued all it does is make the process more difficult.

But there also is the right of referendum, where voters who get enough signatures can block anything that lawmakers have passed until they get a chance to weigh in. That requires only half as many signatures on petitions as a statutory initiative. But the window is smaller, running only through the 90th day following the end of the session.

“I support the system in Arizona,” Leach said of Shipley’s referral. And Leach said he is prepared to make his case about the need for the legislation to voters if it comes to that.

That’s also the position of Garrick Taylor, lobbyist for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which helped craft not only HB 2404 but other changes to the initiative process.

But Taylor also refused to rule out asking lawmakers to effectively quash the referendum by making minor changes to HB 2404 in a subsequent bill this year or next. That would mean HB 2404 as referred no longer exists, killing the referendum without having to wage what could be an expensive ballot campaign.

“We anticipate we will defending the progress we’ve achieved this legislative session” in altering initiative requirements, Taylor said, saying his organization is “aware of the options that are available in the legislative process.”

Whether Shipley will be successful remains to be seen.

He does not have the backing of Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, who was the leader of efforts at the legislature to kill the measure.