Federal Court DISMISSES Request To Force State To Allow Online Petition-Gathering For Initiatives During Pandemic

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Late this afternoon, U.S. District Court Judge Dominic Lanza dismissed an effort by two groups circulating petitions to force the state of Arizona to open up its online signature platform to allow the initiatives to gather signatures in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

A similar effort in state court is still outstanding.

Finding that the language of Arizona’s Constitution – drafted more than 100 years ago – requires that the initiative petition must be a “sheet… signed in the presence of” the circulator must be respected.

“Enter the coronavirus,” writes Lanza. It prompted plaintiffs to challenge the statutes written pursuant to the Constitution while not challenging the language of the Constitution itself. At the hearing earlier this week, Plaintiffs argued that opening up Arizona’s E-Qual signature platform would substantially comply with the constitutional language.

Judge Lanza was not having it.

“Not only does this argument seem questionable, but Plaintiffs are effectively asking a federal court to make a guess about an unsettled question of state law and then, based on that guess, overturn a century-old state-law election rule. This outcome would be distressing from a federalism perspective and is precluded….”

The plaintiffs in this case were Arizonans for Fair Elections and Arizonans Fed Up with Failing Healthcare.

Earlier today, the state of Arizona and the plaintiffs unloaded on each other in post-argument pleadings. The state asked Judge Lanza to refer the constitutional question to the Arizona Supreme Court if it was inclined to grant plaintiff’s relief. “One cannot “substantially comply” with a (constitutional) requirement by obliterating it.”

The separate action already in front of the Arizona Supreme Court will likely be decided near the end of April.

More than 237,000 valid signatures turned in before July 2 are required for an initiative to be placed on the November ballot, and more than 356,000 for a proposed constitutional amendment petition.

The coronavirus response has made it extremely difficult to collect sufficient numbers of petition signatures.

The Court’s Order is posted at Arizona’s Law, where this article was initially posted.