Ambivalence greets Prop. 112, measure to shift petitions deadline - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Ambivalence greets Prop. 112, measure to shift petitions deadline

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Posted: Monday, September 27, 2010 5:00 pm | Updated: 7:24 pm, Tue Sep 28, 2010.

Arizona voters will decide in November whether they want to make it a bit more difficult to make their own laws and constitutional amendments.

Proposition 112 would reduce the amount of time people have to circulate initiative petitions by two months.

The current deadline is now four months ahead of the general election every two years, a deadline that usually comes right around July 1.

This measure, put on the ballot by lawmakers, would require petitions to be submitted two months earlier.

Voters soundly trounced a similar measure in 2004 to put the deadline three months earlier than now required.

That year a variety of groups united to oppose the measure.

And this year? Not a single organization is urging people to vote ‘’no.’’

Eric Ehst who headed the 2004 opposition, said most groups are “ambivalent’’ about the current measure.

“There are good reasons for making the change,’’ he said. But it will leave grass-roots groups that have little money to hire paid circulators -- the way virtually all measures have gotten on the ballot in the last three decades -- at a disadvantage.

Central to the issue is that county recorders have to verify the number of valid signatures on petitions to determine whether an initiative drive qualifies for the ballot.

Most are resolved with a random sampling of 5 percent. If that sampling shows that the petitions will have at least 105 percent of the signatures necessary, the measure goes on the ballot; if the sampling comes back below 95 percent, then it is automatically disqualified.

The problem arises when the sampling comes back between those two numbers. That requires a signature-by-signature count.

That takes time: It takes more than 150,000 signatures to put a proposed statutory change on the ballot; constitutional changes need more than 230,000 valid signatures.

And circulators routinely submit at least 25 percent more than are necessary to account for problems.

Two years ago a random check of a measure to require home warranties showed that, when extrapolated to the full list, it had only 98 percent of the needed signatures. But the secretary of state’s office put it on the ballot anyway, saying there just wasn’t enough time for that signature-by-signature count.

As it turned out, the measure was defeated.

In other years, foes of particular initiative drives have gone to court to challenge the validity of signatures, a time-consuming process.

Proposition 112, put on the ballot by the Legislature, has broad, bipartisan support.

Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, called it “simply common sense.’’ Senate President Bob Burns, R-Peoria, said it will “make our government work better for everyone.’’

Ehst said he talked with several groups that he works with, ranging from the National Organization for Women to the Arizona Advocacy Network.

He said that, ideally, they would like the earlier deadline to be matched with a decrease in the number of signatures required. But Ehst said none of them felt strong enough about the issue to actually oppose Proposition 112.

“Administratively, the move is a good idea,’’ he said.

“There literally is not enough time to check all the signatures and go through all the challenges,’’ Ehst continued. “But, on the other side, it makes it harder for grass-roots groups to get something on the ballot and moves the requirements more towards those who’ve got big bucks.’’

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