Arizona Supreme Court keeps voting rights measure off ballot

Aug 26, 2022, 12:40 AM | Updated: 5:50 pm
FILE - Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert M. Brutinel speaks during oral arguments, in Phoe...

FILE - Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert M. Brutinel speaks during oral arguments, in Phoenix on April 20, 2021. The Arizona Supreme Court will review a lower court's decision to keep a voter initiative rolling back Republican-backed election law changes and expanding voting access on the ballot and could decide to block it after all. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

(AP Photo/Matt York, File)

PHOENIX (AP) — A voter initiative rolling back Republican-backed election law changes and expanding voting access will not appear on the November ballot, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Friday, issuing a final death knell after an on-again off-again series of court rulings.

The high court decision upholds a lower court ruling issued hours earlier, in which Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Mikitish rejected thousands of signatures and said the initiative fell 1,458 signatures short of the 238,000 required to qualify for the ballot. The judge’s Friday ruling reversed his own decision from a day earlier after the Supreme Court asked him to explain how he concluded that the initiative had enough valid signatures to qualify.

The Supreme Court’s ruling is the last word in a weeks-long battle between initiative backers and opponents. Critics, led by the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, succeeded in knocking off enough qualifying signatures for the measure to barely fail.

Lawyers supporting the initiative had urged the Supreme Court to allow the measure to reach voters, saying Mikitish violated the law by letting challengers throw out more signatures than allowed.

“In reversing itself today, the trial court has done something never done before in Arizona initiative practice and which is not authorized by statute,” they wrote. “It has allowed initiative challengers to strike individual signatures under (the law), for any reason, AND allowed them to benefit from the invalidity rate calculated by the County Recorders’ random sample that the challengers DID NOT include in this lawsuit.”

But Chief Justice Robert Brutinel, in a brief order, simply upheld the revised ruling and kept the initiative off the ballot. When the judge upheld the measure the day before, Brutinel had refused to accept it, saying court was unable to determine exactly how Mikitish came to his determination that backers had collected enough valid signatures for the measure to appear on November’s ballot.

The Arizona Free Enterprise Club said in a statement that the high court ruling “vindicates what we knew all along: the radical Free and Fair election initiative lacked enough lawful signatures to qualify for the ballot.

“The other side knew it too, and that is why their lawyers tried to get the court to adopt a rigged methodology to calculate the final number of valid signatures that would sneak their disqualified measure onto the ballot.”

The initiative backers called the legal challenge a continuation of Republican-led efforts to gut Arizona’s initiative process. The state constitution says the people have the right to craft their own laws, but the Legislature and business groups have pushed for changes that make it easier to kick initiatives off the ballot.

Voters will see GOP efforts along those lines in November. Several laws making it harder for initiatives to pass or be changed were referred to the ballot for voters to weigh.

“Certain politicians have been intentionally trying to attack the ballot measure process for over a decade to prevent voters from being able to make decisions about Arizona’s future at the ballot box,” the initiative committee said in a statement. “Today’s decision is a continuation of these attacks and reflects an increasingly extreme MAGA agenda.”

The high court had already ruled in challenges to two other initiatives, keeping them on the November ballot. The justices said Wednesday that business groups that challenged a proposal requiring greater transparency for political spending and boosting the amount of assets shielded from creditors failed to knock off enough signatures.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and the GOP leaders of the House and Senate had urged the high court to reject all three measures. Ducey has appointed five of the seven justices.

Mikitish has presided over three weeks of hearings in a case filed by a pro-business group that challenged many of the nearly 400,000 signatures the initiative backers filed. After lawyers for the Arizona Free Enterprise Club succeeded in knocking off nearly 96,000 signatures, and a county review to determine if the signatures were valid kicked off nearly 64,000 more, it was left with just 2,281 more than the required 237,645 signatures needed to make the ballot.

In Friday, Mikitish flipped those numbers.

The Free and Fair Elections measure sought to change a slew of election laws. It would have specifically blocked the Legislature from overturning the results of presidential elections, an avenue some Republicans explored after former President Donald Trump’s loss in the state in 2020.

It also would have guaranteed ballot privacy and bars handing election materials or ballots over to outside groups like the state Senate did after 2020, expanded voting access, mandated that all voters can go to any polling site, extended early voting and limited lobbyists’ ability to wine and dine lawmakers.

The measure also would eliminate the “strict compliance” legal standard that led Mikitish to disqualify many of the petition sheets. The GOP-controlled Legislature required that standard for initiatives in 2017, making it easier to throw them out for relatively minor paperwork errors.

The Free Enterprise Club challenged tens of thousands of signatures, many for exceptionally minor issues.

For instance, 7,000 signatures were challenged because a volunteer petition circulator mistakenly checked a box that indicated they were paid circulators.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Former Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy answers questions after his legal...
Luis Andres Henao, The Associated Press

After Supreme Court backs Bremerton praying coach, no sweeping changes

Three months after the decision, there’s no sign that large numbers of coaches have been newly inspired to follow Joseph Kennedy’s high-profile example.
12 hours ago
(Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)...
Associated Press

GOP candidate apologizes after antisemitic post surfaces

A GOP candidate for the Washington Legislature has acknowledged that a post he put on social media in 2020 is antisemitic.
12 hours ago
Associated Press

Sheriff probed after comments surface condemning Black staff

WHITEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina sheriff was recorded calling Black employees by derogatory names and saying they should be fired, a television station reported. Several Black officers in leadership positions were later demoted or fired. Columbus County Sheriff Jody Greene issued a statement arguing that the recording of the February 2019 phone call […]
1 day ago
This combination of images provided by NASA shows three different views of the DART spacecraft impa...
Associated Press

Space telescopes capture asteroid slam with striking clarity

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The world now has stunning new photos of this week’s asteroid strike, the first planetary defense test of its kind. NASA on Thursday released pictures of the dramatic event taken by the Hubble and Webb space telescopes. Telescopes on all seven continents also watched as NASA’s Dart spacecraft slammed Monday […]
1 day ago
President Joe Biden talks with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa outside the West Wing of the...
Associated Press

South Africa’s Ramaphosa denies money-laundering allegations

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa denied allegations of money laundering while being questioned by lawmakers Thursday over a scandal that threatens his position and the direction of Africa’s most developed economy. Ramaphosa already faces an investigation by police and a Parliament-appointed panel over the theft of a large amount of money in […]
1 day ago
FILE - A fence stands at Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Ala., June 18, 2015. Alabama inmat...
Associated Press

Alabama prisons reduce meals, nix visits amid inmate strike

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Thousands of inmates in Alabama’s overcrowded prison system are receiving only two meals a day during a prisoner work stoppage that was in its fourth day Thursday, and the agency said weekend visitation also was being canceled. While inmates and activists have accused the Department of Corrections of using pressure tactics […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
Arizona Supreme Court keeps voting rights measure off ballot