A senate panel voted Wednesday to throw some additional hurdles in the path of Arizonans who want to write their own laws.
Existing law already has a set of requirements for putting a measure on the ballot to propose a new statute or constitutional amendment. These include for who can circulate petitions, what has to be on each page and how many names can be on each sheet.
SB 1493 adds some new ones, including a mandate to organize petition sheets by county of residence of signers, by the circulator on that signature sheet, and by the name of the person who notarized each.
But the real change is that the legislation says that both election officials and courts, in reviewing the validity of petitions, must void those that are not in "strict compliance'' with all legal requirements.
That change is significant.
Last year the Arizona Supreme Court allowed a vote on a measure to permanently increase the state sales tax by one cent despite some irregularities in the process. Specifically, backers had turned in one version of their plan on paper to the Secretary of State and a different one in digital format.
Chief Justice Rebecca Berch ruled the issue is whether there has been "substantial compliance'' with the laws. She said that "strikes the appropriate balance between protecting our citizens' right to initiate new laws and the integrity of the election process.''
This measure, in essence, would overrule that with language saying that strict compliance "provides the surest method for safeguarding the integrity and accuracy of the initiative and referendum process.''
Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr said that erects new barriers in the path of those who feel the need to bypass the Legislature. That includes her organization.
"The only way in the future we will get meaningful environmental protection is through the initiative process,'' she told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Bahr said this legislation would allow initiative petition drives, perhaps with hundreds of thousands of names, to be thrown out on technicalities.
"That's ridiculous for not organizing your petitions exactly by county and circulator and notary,'' she said.
"It's very easy to get something out of order, to disenfranchise the people who sign and basically say, 'Well, you didn't really support this because it got out of order,' '' Bahr continued. "That just seems wrong.''
The measure, which now awaits a vote of the full Senate, does more than change the laws on initiatives.
It also allows county election officials to remove individuals from the "permanent early voter list'' if they do not use their early ballots for two elections in a row. That is supported by the county recorders.
More controversial is another section which restricts who can return someone else's early ballot to the polls. The legislation specifically makes it a felony for someone who is a paid of volunteer worker for any political committee.
Sen. Lynne Pancrazi, D-Yuma, said these are unnecessary "roadblocks.''
"We should be encouraging people to vote,'' she said.
And Sen. Anna Tovar, D-Tolleson, warned colleagues that this might be seen by the U.S. Department of Justice as infringing on the rights of voters, minority and otherwise. That is important because Arizona is one of the states subject to requirements of the Voting Rights Act to get Department of Justice "preclearance'' of any changes in election laws because of a prior history of discrimination.
"I agree with the thought we don't want to put undue burdens in front of people who are eligible and lawfully able to register and vote,'' said Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale. But he said that needs to be balanced "by not making it so easy to vote so that people who are not eligible can easily get on the rolls to vote.''
He said ineligible voters casting ballots "disenfranchises those people who actually are eligible.''