Originally Published: August 4, 2018 4:15 p.m.
PHOENIX — Arizonans can’t be blocked from voting on a renewable energy proposal solely because organizers may have violated some state election laws, a judge ruled Tuesday.
But it remains to be seen whether the state’s largest electric company can prove some other way that the Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona initiative should be kept off the November ballot.
In an order late Tuesday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Daniel Kiley said it is possible that initiative organizers did not comply with state laws that require all ballot measures to list a “sponsor’’ before gathering signatures.
And attorneys for Arizona Public Service contend that even after a sponsor finally was named, it was not the legally correct one. They contend petition signers should have been told up front virtually all the money was coming from NextGen Climate Action, the political action committee formed by California billionaire Tom Steyer. But Kiley said none of that matters.
Kiley said if this actually violates some state election law — something he is not deciding — only the Secretary of State’s Office has the legal authority to do something about it. And the most that could happen, the judge said, is the campaign could be fined if it did not come into compliance. What all that means, Kiley said, is APS and Pinnacle West Capital Corp. have no legal right to try to enforce the election law. And, more to the point, that means the utility has no grounds to argue that the missing or improper sponsor name is grounds to disqualify all the 480,000 signatures collected, a move that would have made the initiative drive go away. In his 17-page ruling, however, Kiley said that the utility remains free to try to prove its contention that three-fourths of the signatures gathered are invalid, most of those based on allegations that the signers were not registered to vote or that names, signatures or addresses do not match. The judge already has scheduled a five-day trial for later this month on the issue.