The Arizona Supreme Court has denied an effort by initiative campaigns to collect online signatures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Initiative campaigns such as Smart and Safe Arizona, Save our Schools Arizona, Invest In Education and Arizonans for Second Chances filed a Petition for Special Attention with the Arizona Supreme Court on April 2. The groups wanted to utilize the state's E-Qual electronic signature system in an attempt to help initiatives continue collecting signatures during the pandemic.
But the court agreed with Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who argued that the Arizona Constitution requires that every petition circulator personally witness every voter's signature.
"My job is to defend the law and I'm going to continue doing so as long as I'm attorney general," Brnovich said after the ruling. "A health crisis is not an excuse to ignore the constitution."
But an attorney for the plaintiffs called the decision disturbing.
"It is disappointing in Arizona to see the courts and the attorney general and legislature repeatedly prevent the options of choice to voters where their options are to forgo their constitutional rights or to risk their health and safety," said Roopali Desai, the lawyer representing the initiative campaigns. "It's really unfortunate the court did not grant the relief under such extreme circumstances. It's not only disappointing but it's incredibly dishearting."
While the court has decided the case, they have not released a reason for their decision at this time, Desai said.
"In terms of the reasoning for the court's decision, that will not come out in the form of a written opinion for some time," Desai said. "They didn't say when they would get it to us but they did say they were getting a detailed opinion out in due course." Desai said this was a one-shot chance with the Supreme Court "hoping they would do the right thing" for initiatives and voters during the pandemic. "They failed us," she said.
Attorneys filed a similar lawsuit in federal court to gain access to the E-Qual system but struck out there.
"There is no further legal action for the request that the initiatives be granted online petitions signature gathering opportunities," Desai said. "However the next step as far as we're concerned from a campaign perspective is to continue collecting signatures in any way possible that's safe and allows them to gather enough signatures to be on the ballot."
Despite the ruling, backers of the Smart and Safe Arizona initiative say they are on target to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot.
With just under two months left until the July 2 deadline, the campaign has collected more than 100,000 signatures over the minimum requirement of about 238,000 signatures for the proposed ballot proposition, which asks Arizona voters to approve recreational cannabis use for adults in the state.