Legal Battle Brewing Over Election Law Referendum

The battle is on over whether a referendum to overturn an overhaul of Arizona’s election law will make the ballot.

Opponents of HB 2305, who say it is designed to disenfranchise voters and suppress turnout, told the press that they turned in more than 146,000 signatures last month.

After reviewing the petitions, the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office announced yesterday that, after disqualifying some of the petitions, the Protect Your Right To Vote Committee had 139,161 signatures.

The next step: A random sample of 5 percent of the signatures (which comes out to 6,959 signatures) will be selected for review by the various county recorders, who will determine what percentage are valid signatures. That accuracy rating will be compared to number of signatures collected to determine whether the referendum has the necessary 86,405 valid signatures to force an election.

Earlier today, supporters of the law—who maintain that the overhaul was designed to protect against fraud, streamline vote counting on Election Day and prevent sham candidates from third parties from appearing on the ballot—wrote a letter to the Secretary of State in an attempt to strike a number of signatures gathered by four petition passers.

Barrett Marson, a spokesman for the Stop Voter Fraud Committee, said that those petition passers had been found to be ineligible in a Tucson court case earlier this year (which resulted in an initiative to scrap Tucson’s pension system being tossed from the ballot).

But Robbie Sherwood, a political consultant who is working for the Protect Your Right To Vote Committee, said that two of the four people named in the letter did not work for the committee.

He said the committee was prepared to defend the eligibility of the other two petition passers in court.

Both Sherwood and Marson said that election officials had informed them that the Secretary of State’s Office would not be taking action on the Stop Voter Fraud Committee's call to disqualify the challenged petition passers. Amy Chan, the Secretary of State's election director, did not return a phone call and email from the Tucson Weekly.

Julie Erfle, who is chairing the Protect Your Right To Vote Committee, questioned how opponents of the referendum knew those four petition passers had been working for the campaign, given that the petitions had not yet been released to the public.

Marston said that the petition passers were seen gathering signatures.

Sherwood said that based on the number of signatures in the random sample that was going out to county election officials, the group would need a 62 percent validity rate to make the November 2014 ballot, according to Sherwood.

“We believe we will be much higher than that,” Sherwood said.

If the referendum passes that threshold, the new election law will be on hold until voters determine whether it should be approved.

Marston said he anticipated a court fight over the validity of the petition signatures once they are released to the public and available for review.

“This the bottom of the second inning and maybe they’re up 2-1,” Marston said. “There’s a long way to go.”

Sherwood said he was confident that the signatures would hold up under review.

“This is not going to work out the way that they want,” Sherwood said. “We did not run this campaign as sloppily as others have before. It is not surprising that they are pulling out all the stops to prevent a vote on this, because we know the public values their right to vote and they’re going to hold the line on this and reject 2305 when it is on the ballot.”