Q&A: Arizona Supreme Court E-Qual ruling a threat to Arizona democracy?

Goddard offers insights to court decision


The Arizona Supreme Court Tuesday, May 13 denied a request for accepting a special action and relief from the in-person state law signature requirement to place statewide initiative questions on the November general election ballot.

Arizona hosts a partisan primary election Tuesday, Aug. 4 and a general election Tuesday, Nov. 2.

At the core of the legal challenge to in-person signature gathering during the time of the novel coronavirus is the usage of the E-Qual program.

Through the E-Qual program, which is administered by the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office through the Citizens Clean Elections Commissions --- a bipartisan, voter-approved regulatory body --- Arizona voters can sign nominations forms for partisan candidates and provide $5 donations.

To better understand the ramifications of this recent ruling, Independent Newsmedia reached out to Terry Goddard, a longtime political advocate, former mayor of Phoenix and Arizona Attorney General.

Mr. Goddard is seeking an end to “dark money,” or political contributions undisclosed to 501(c)4 nonprofit organizations. But at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 he abandoned plans for this November.

This is what he had to say on the recent Arizona Supreme Court ruling and the status of his dark money initiative:

• Due to concerns surrounding COVID-19, what kind of a blow is this Arizona Supreme Court ruling to statewide initiatives actually making the November ballot?

In this crisis, in-person signature gathering was prohibited by the stay-at-home orders for two months. Some say it is still very poor public policy and a violation of social distancing as we ramp back up. That suspension was a huge setback during the prime signature gathering season.

• What is the status of your dark money initiative?

In respect to the health crisis and the governor’s stay-at-home orders, we paused the outlaw dirty money signature gathering on March 17 --- ironically that was our most productive day for signatures. We were on track to easily make the ballot with over 275,000 signatures in hand. Now, we are deciding whether there is enough time left before the July 2 deadline and whether voters will be willing to sign a petition in light of the need for continued social distancing and other appropriate behavior in this public health crisis.

• Is this Arizona Supreme Court ruling a blow to democracy in Arizona?

Yes. Our constitution provides the right to initiative. But, if that right can only be exercised in person and not electronically, in a public health crisis our rights are rendered worthless. Since candidate petitions can be signed electronically, it seemed only fair that the same procedure be available to initiatives. A number of petition drives have decided that they cannot qualify for the ballot before the without electronic signatures.

• What is the No. 1 thing our readers should understand about this ruling?

That we should have the same procedures for all petition signatures, for candidates and for initiatives.

As a first step, we should have electronic signatures allowed for initiatives. Our volunteers are considering asking the governor to issue a one time exemption that would allow the signatures gathered before the end of the stay at home order to count toward the 2022 election. That would keep the constitutional right to petition our government intact and allow signatures gathered for all current petitions to still count. Signature gatherers could then stay home and safe. We believe this would be a practical and fair way to deal with a situation that no one anticipated.