Supreme Court rejects black money and debt collection challenges


The Arizona Supreme Court has dismissed challenges to two election initiatives, one already certified for the November ballot and one that looks likely to do so.

ARIZONA, United States — The Arizona Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed challenges to two election initiatives, one already certified for the November ballot and another that appears likely when a final verification of signatures will be completed.

RELATED: Black Money, Debt Collections and Election Changes: Here’s the Status of 3 Arizona Ballot Measures

The Supreme Court said in unanimous opinions that it would not block a measure that will require greater transparency of political spending and another that will increase the amount of assets protected from creditors.

A challenge to a third measure expanding voting access and rolling back restrictions enacted by the Republican-controlled legislature is also before the Supreme Court and may not have enough qualified signatures, regardless of what the Supreme Court does.

Opponents, mostly business groups, argued that petition distributors paid for the three measures failed to comply with the law because they failed to file affidavits certifying they complied with legal requirements. each time they told the Secretary of State that they would collect the necessary signatures for a particular initiative.

Supporters of the measures said they followed rules set by the secretary of state’s office for records and that the secretary’s online portal does not allow more than one affidavit to be filed.

Lower courts said only one affidavit was required. But Gov. Doug Ducey and opponents of the measures disagreed and asked the Supreme Court to throw out all petitions collected by people who had collected signatures for more than one initiative but only filed a single affidavit.

In brief orders dismissing the challenges, Chief Justice Robert Brutinel said the law actually requires new certification for every initiative. But the seven justices said that because the Secretary of State’s system did not allow it, they would not dismiss the petitions.

“The Court unanimously declines to find that the initiative committee … or any individual circulator failed to comply (with the law) when the SOS prevented such compliance,” Brutinel wrote. “A finding of noncompliance and disqualification of circulator signatures on this record and in these circumstances ‘would unreasonably impede or restrict’ the exercise of the power of initiative under … the Arizona Constitution.”

Former Attorney General Terry Goddard, who worked for years to put the “voters’ right to know” measure on the ballot, applauded the decision.

“Justice prevailed. I’m thrilled,” Goddard said. “And they did what we hoped they would do, which is that logic says there should have been an affidavit to every time, but you can’t force someone to live up to a standard that they can’t live up to.”

The court also dismissed a challenge to a lower court’s ruling that circulators who lived in multi-unit dwellings were required to list their unit number on their petitions and other forms.

The voter right-to-know measure is the only one still awaiting certification of donor-submitted qualifying signatures by county recorders and the secretary of state. But Goddard said 13 of 15 counties have completed their reviews and about 80% of signatures have been deemed valid, a high margin that will easily get the lead on the ballot if the bottom two counties come close to that rate.

The justices also rejected a challenge to the 100-word summary that voters saw when they signed petitions for the Protection from Predatory Debt Collections Act to appear on the ballot. Opponents had argued that the last sentence which stated that it did not change the laws relating to secured debt was misleading.

“The summary, when read as a whole, is not objectively false or misleading,” Brutinel wrote.

The initiative would increase the amount of a home’s value protected from creditors under the ‘property exemption’ from $150,000 to $400,000 and increase the value of vehicles, cash and equipment. other property protected from creditors. It also caps interest rates on medical debt and adds annual inflation adjustments.

The measure of free and fair elections hangs by a thread, and its fate seems to be tied to how a final count of signatures is counted after signatures collected by voters who made mistakes are discarded and the Secretary of State conducted the final review.

He is also before the Supreme Court and lower court judges are still grappling with challenges to some of his qualifying signatures.

Lawyer Jim Barton, who represents the committee backing the election measure, said it will take until Thursday to find out the outcome, “but the committee is hoping that means we stay on the ballot.”

The initiative’s signatures and documents are weighed by judges under a legal standard of “strict compliance” that the GOP-controlled Legislature and Ducey put in place in 2017. GOP lawmakers said that c was necessary because once an initiative is enacted, it is almost impossible for the legislature to change it. The change made it easier to discard them for relatively minor paperwork errors.

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