PHOENIX – Arizona election laws on voter initiatives don’t work anymore and need to be revised by the Legislature, the Arizona Supreme Court said Tuesday in a ruling that explained why a major transportation funding proposal was kept off the Nov. 4 ballot.
The state high court’s call for a review of initiative laws follows court fights last summer over whether several high-profile proposals’ were eligible to go before voters. Lawmakers have said they plan to look at the issue in 2009.
The so-called “TIME Initiative” proposed a one-cent increase in the state sales tax to pay for highway construction, new rail service and other transportation programs.
In a setback for Gov. Janet Napolitano and other backers, Secretary of State Jan Brewer declared that supporters did not submit enough valid voter signatures to put the measure on the ballot.
A second Napolitano-backed proposal, one on state trust land, also failed because it lacked enough signatures and because supporters didn’t go to court soon enough to challenge that decision.
Supporters of the transportation initiative went to court, but a trial judge ruled that they missed an initial – and previously ignored – deadline to challenge the state’s rejection of some petitions and signatures.
The deadline was 10 days after the secretary of state made an initial screening of petitions before forwarding a random sample to county recorders for voter signature checks.
By the time the county recorders completed their work and the secretary of state said there weren’t enough valid signatures, the deadline to challenge the secretary’s initial work had already passed.
That meant the deadline was impractical and inapplicable to the circumstances at hand, but the justices say state law provided the 10-day deadline as the only basis for a legal challenge of the initial screening.
However, the justices’ unanimous decision said the workability of state elections on initiative laws is in question and suggested a “thorough legislative re-examination” of election laws.
“Our election officials are required to process large numbers of initiative and referendum petitions,” Justice Andrew Hurwitz wrote for the court. “The growth of the state’s electorate means that the number of signatures submitted to qualify for placement on the ballot has also steadily grown. And, even when the secretary (of state) and county recorders complete the verification process within the statutory deadlines, the time for judicial review has been shortened by the need to prepare for early voting.”
On the Web
Arizona Supreme Court:
The case is Transportation Infrastructure Moving Arizona’s Economy vs. Brewer, CV-08-0275-AP/EL.