Arizonans for Fair Elections file the Fair Elections Act initiative


In case you missed it, this happened this past week. Arizonans for Fair Elections filed an ambitious ballot initiative that includes a laundry list of election reforms that I have advocated on behalf of for years (and a few I hadn’t even thought of).

The Arizona Republic reported, Effort underway to significantly change elections in Arizona:

Arizonans for Fair Elections launched a ballot initiative Wednesday that proposes to lower the state’s campaign contribution limits and set up a system during election seasons for every voter to get vouchers from the state for up to $50 that they could then give to the candidates of their choice.

Supporters say the goal is to flood elections with small donations, dilute the influence of big donors and give candidates more incentive to appeal directly to the public rather than wealthy patrons.

“People all over Arizona of all political stripes feel like their voices don’t have enough impact at the state Capitol and wealthy interests are running the show,” said Joel Edman, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network, a left-leaning group that is backing the measure.

But this model of publicly financing campaigns, which has already been adopted at the local level in Seattle, is just one piece of the sprawling proposed ballot measure that would also allow same-day and automatic voter registration while tightening the limits on political donations and restricting lobbying.

This initiative is also reminiscent of two successful 2018 ballot measures, one in Michigan, where voters passed automatic and same-day voter registration in a landslide, and another in Missouri, where voters widely approved ethics and lobbying reforms tied to redistricting reform. (h/t Daily Kos).

What would the measure do?

Arizonans for Fair Elections expects to begin collecting signatures to get on the 2020 ballot sometime in December. It will need 237,645 signatures from registered Arizona voters to qualify.

Dubbed the Fair Elections Act, a draft of the proposed ballot initiative totaled nearly 21,000 words. It would:

      • Allow voters to register at the polls on Election Day.
      • Create a system to automatically register every eligible voter who has presented proof of citizenship while obtaining a driver’s license.
      • Extend in-person early voting through the Monday before Election Day.
      • Lower the campaign donation limits for statewide, legislative and local candidates.
      • Increase the amount of public financing available for candidates participating in the Clean Elections Commission system.
      • Create a system to issue vouchers worth at most $50 to every registered voter. Voters could then donate the vouchers to candidates of their choice.
      • Allow voters to send mail-in ballots through Election Day, instead of requiring ballots arrive no later than Election Day.
      • Ban lobbyists from giving lawmakers gifts such as trips or food and drinks worth more than $20.
      • Expand the state’s law that prohibits legislators or senior government officials from participating in decisions in which they have a conflict of interest.
      • Ban legislators from lobbying for two years after leaving office, instead of one year.

“You’ve got to address a whole lot of problems at once,” Edman said. “It’s not just about curtailing the influence of big money. It’s about bringing people into the political system and making it easier to register and vote whether by mail, early or in person on election day.”

Funding from taxes, tax credit

Under state’s existing Citizens Clean Elections system, candidates can get funding from the state if they collect a pile of $5 contributions and agree to abide by lower donation limits.

If voters approve the new ballot measure, the existing Citizens Clean Election Commission would manage the new voucher program.

The proposal would raise the minimum corporate income taxes to pay for the campaign donation vouchers.

Under current law, companies are required to pay $50 or 4.9% of qualifying income — whichever is greater.

The ballot measure proposes to raise that minimum tax of $50 to $150 in 2021. The additional $100 would go to the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

Businesses with fewer than 50 employees would be exempt from the increase.

The measure would also reinstate an option for taxpayers to get a tax credit for donating to the Citizens Clean Elections Commission when filing their annual return, an incentive that lawmakers abolished in 2012.

One of several ideas

The sprawling measure may get lost amid several other voting-related initiatives vying for a spot on the ballot next year. All the measures are still in the midst of collecting the signatures required to qualify for the ballot.

A separate proposed ballot measure would institute automatic voter registration.

Another proposed measure would make it easier for groups to get initiatives on the ballot and toughen the state’s conflict of interest laws.

Meanwhile, former Attorney General Terry Goddard is spearheading the Outlaw Dirty Money campaign to pass a proposed ballot initiative that would require so-called dark money groups disclose their donors when making big expenditures, like buying attack ads.

Outlaw Dirty Money backers tried, and failed, to get that measure on the 2018 ballot.

Some believe 2020 might be a better opportunity than past years to win voters’ approval for such a measure.

The presidential election is expected to drive high turnout at the polls and opponents may be playing Whack-a-Mole to stop similar measures in Arizona, potentially stretching resources thin for any “vote no” campaign.

Here’s the thing: if we did not have a legislature controlled by Republicans who want to make it harder for people to vote, to suppress classes of voters who tend to vote Democratic, and who want to nullify your constitutional right to initiative/referendum/recall by imposing onerous requirements that are near impossible to meet and subject to legal challenges for non-substantive technicalities (type face, line spacing, signature extending outside the signature box, etc.), all of these measures to make voting easier and fairer in Arizona would already have been passed by the legislature. In fact, Democrats in the Arizona legislature have filed bills for several of these reforms for years.

Since Oregon passed the first-in-the-nation “motor voter” law in 2016 aka automatic voter registration, 17 other states and the District of Columbia have passed laws requiring residents to opt out of registering to vote, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Screen Shot 2019-11-03 at 11.36.28 AM

As of June 30, 2019, a total of 21 states plus the District of Columbia have enacted same day registration (SDR), which allows any qualified resident of the state to go to register to vote and cast a ballot all in that day, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Screen Shot 2019-11-03 at 11.49.01 AM


You will notice that Arizona is the ugly red-haired step child among our Western state neighbors. Arizona Republicans are a special breed of ignorant reactionaries.

As you might imagine, Arizona’s reigning Queen of Voter Suppression, State Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (Scottsdale) — the legislator most responsible for carrying the water of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry to make voting harder, purging voter rolls of PEVL voters, and nullifying your constitutional right to initiative/referendum/recall — is opposed to to these reforms. The Arizona Capitol Times reports Groups roll out proposed remake of campaign finance:

State Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, the Scottsdale Republican who leads GOP legislative efforts on election measures, said she thinks the proposed ballot measure is a “disaster.”

“They bastardized the registration process, the ID requirements, and it’s very hard to understand why they would do that, other than to try to get an outcome that you’re not getting anywhere else, and I’m concerned about it,” Ugenti-Rita said.

She was particularly troubled by a clause that would allow a county elections departments to accept non-traditional addresses, such as mile markers or geographic landmarks, when registering voters. Tribal leaders say many rural tribal members don’t have standard addresses.

Screw those Native Americans, let them buy a house in town with a street address!” Nah, there’s nothing racist about suppressing the Native American vote because they don’t have a street address.

And Ugenti-Rita also questioned the reasoning behind automatic voter registration, pointing out that the state also requires residents to opt into receiving their ballots by mail, receive benefits and become licensed drivers.

“It’s un-American to do it the other way, to just assume people want something without having them first tell you that they want it,” she said.

So 17 states and the District of Columbia are “un-American”? Including almost all of our Western neighbors?

Seems to me this woman is just a Luddite opposed to modernization of voter registration with readily available technology to make it easier. There are a number of states who can demonstrate to Arizona how it is done right. How about calling them to testify before the Arizona legislature?

If Ugenti-Rita had her way, she would make everyone do the the drunk test in Steve Martin’s The Man With Two Brains to register to vote.

Michelle Ugenti-Rita needs to be sent packing next November. Her voter suppression days need to come to an end. And that goes double for all of the voter suppression Republicans in the Arizona legislature.