PHOENIX — Arizona voters are likely to get a chance to vote in November to bring an end to political commercials by anonymous special interest groups, reverse changes in election laws approved by Republican legislators and provide new protections for themselves against medical and other debt.
Backers of three separate measures each turned in more than the minimum 237,645 valid signatures needed to put the issues to voters.
State officials now have 20 days, exclusive of weekends and holidays, to do their initial processing of petition sheets, with counties then having another 15 business days to review a random sample of signatures to determine what percentage are qualified. And each is likely to face legal challenges from foes.
But each, if approved, would make immediate and visible changes in Arizona.
The proposal by Arizonans for Free and Fair Elections contains a laundry list of changes in state elections laws.
Some are new ideas for Arizona, such as allowing people to register and vote at the same time, including on Election Day. And people would be registered to vote automatically when they get an Arizona driver’s license unless they opt out.
It would ensure votes are counted no matter in what precinct they are cast as long as it is within the same county.
The proposal also would reinstate the state’s permanent early voting list which automatically provides mail-in ballots for anyone who opts in.
Lawmakers voted to repeal that last year, replacing it with a system that stops the early ballots from coming for those who do not use them for at least two election cycles, though they still would be able to vote in person.
Backers of the initiative said that is not fair for those who may not be regular voters, turning out only when there are issues or candidates on the ballot of interest.
Also gone would be the 2021 law that makes it a crime to take someone else’s voted early ballot to a polling place unless that person is a relative, member of the same household or a caretaker.
And the initiative would roll back decisions by lawmakers to increase the amount of money individuals and political action committees can give to candidates, a figure currently set at $6,250. It would be capped at $1,000 for local and legislative candidates and $2,500 for statewide races.
For those who do like to vote in person, the initiative demands that election officials do what they can to keep waiting times in lines at polling places to no more than 30 minutes, with permission for those who are not election officials to provide food, nonalcoholic beverages, and the use of umbrellas or chairs to make people comfortable as long as those offers are not tied to how someone votes.
There’s even a provision designed to keep lawmakers from tinkering with presidential electors. It says any changes in selection electors has to be made by Jan. 1 of the election year, precluding last-minute changes pushed through in November or December by legislators unhappy with the popular vote.
Organizers said they turned in petitions with 475,290 signatures.
Potentially the most controversial provision is the same-day voter registration. But Maria Teresa Mabry, a co-executive director of the Arizona Democracy Resource Center, said it’s highly doubtful someone from another state would take the time to come to Arizona, spend the money to rent an apartment to get an address, register, cast a ballot and then leave.
Jim Barton, who is working with the organization, said if anyone that determined to influence the outcome of an Arizona election could do that now.
The only difference is that person would have to move here 29 days ahead of the election.
Roy Tatum, political director of Our Voice, Our Vote, one of the groups involved in the petition drive, said approval will go a long way toward empowering individuals.
“We know what the abuse of power looks like,” he said.
Much of the funding comes from Living United for Change in Arizona, a local group that has been responsible for other changes in state law, like a minimum wage higher than the $7.25 federal figure.
Opposition is already coming from a group chaired by Bret Halley, chief operating officer for Valley Forge and Bolt Manufacturing. In a press release, Halley said the measure is filled with “terrible ideas,” not just incuding same-day registration and voting but also “making ballot harvesting legal again so paid political operatives can pick up your ballot.”
Also up for voter approval is a measure designed to put an end to “dark money” in political races.
Campaign finance laws require public disclosure of who is spending money to influence candidate elections and ballot measures. But state lawmakers crafted an exception for “social welfare” organizations that are free to hide the names of their donors.
“I believe that Arizonans should have the right to know who’s paying for the advertisements that they get bombarded with in every election,” said former Attorney General Terry Goddard who has spearheaded the campaign.
He said the proof is as plain as what is people are seeing in the 2022 election with TV ads for candidates, many of them listed solely as being paid for by organizations with names that provide no clue as to who actually is providing he financing.
“Right now in Arizona there are more ‘dark money’ ads, more anonymous ads being run than in any other state on a percentage of our total advertising,” Goddard said. “And that’s just wrong.”
What the initiative would do, he said, is “shine a very bright light on who it is that’s trying to persuade us, one way or the other, to vote.”
Former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson, who also has been involved in the effort, said he has no problem with people being able to donate as much as they want to campaigns. The key, he said, is doing that in a way so people know who they are.
“If you’re not willing to be known, there are one of two problems,” Johnson said.
“Either the cause that you’re advocating is immoral or you are a coward — or both.”
The initiative seeks to deal with that by requiring the disclosure of true source of donations of more than $5,000 on political campaigns. And Goddard said it has to be traced back to the original source and cannot be “laundered” through a series of groups.
Retired business owner Bob Betrand, co-chairman of the campaign, said Arizonans got a close look at how the process works in 2014 when several groups, including the Arizona Free Enterprise Club and Save Our Future Now, spent millions to secure the election of Republicans Tom Forese and Doug Little to the Arizona Corporation Commission.
The groups refused to disclose the source of those dollars, citing their status as “social welfare” organizations.
It took until 2019 for Arizona Public Service Co., the state’s largest electric utility, to divulge it was the source of $10.7 million to elect the two regulators.
“They had a real conflict of interest, and a real indebtedness to APS, but nobody knew that,” Bertrand said. “Had they known that, it’s distinctly possible the outcome (of the 2014 election) would have been very different.”
This is actually the third try.
A similar 2018 effort failed after foes mounted a court challenge to some of the 285,000 signatures collected, many by paid circulators.
The 2020 measure using only volunteers faltered during the COVID-19 pandemic, which included, for a period of time, a stay-at-home order.
Goddard said the more than 393,000 signatures submitted Thursday should provide a sufficient margin to withstand challenges.
Backers of an initiative to make changes in bankruptcy and other laws turned in about 472,000 signatures Thursday to put a series of changes in state law on the November ballot.
The measure, if approved, would increase the amount of equity someone could have in a home to keep it from being seized in bankruptcy to $400,000, up from $250,000. And it would mandate annual cost-of-living increases in that figure rather than having to wait for state lawmakers to marshal the votes for future changes.