If you want to put a citizens initiative on the 2020 ballot, you had better file it by early 2019


Voting rights and electoral issues were on the ballot in 13 states, and voters overwhelmingly supported expanding access to the ballot box. Voting Rights Were The Biggest Winner In The Elections:

One clear winner emerged from last week’s elections: voting.

Voting rights and electoral issues were on the ballot in 13 states, and in almost all of them, voters overwhelmingly supported initiatives that expand access to the ballot box and make the right to vote easier to exercise.

In Colorado, Michigan, and Missouri, ballot initiatives aimed at replacing gerrymandering — the redrawing of legislative districts by political incumbents to strengthen their party’s electoral representation — with nonpartisan methods of redistricting all received more than 60% of the vote. Colorado’s proposal to allow independent commissions to handle redistricting garnered over 70%.

Marylanders turned out in favor of same-day voter registration. Nevadans ushered in “motor voter” automatic registration for those who visit the Department of Motor Vehicles. Floridians, meanwhile, restored the right to vote for 1.4 million released felons(excluding those convicted of murder or sex crimes).

Perhaps the most significant victory for voting rights came in Michigan, where two-thirds of voters adopted Proposal 3. Among other provisions, the new law guarantees same-day voter registration, automatic registration at the DMV, and no-excuse absentee voting. Voting has never been easier in one America’s most important swing states.

This bodes well for the millions of Americans who have expressed a newfound interest in democratic participation in recent years.

In Arizona, the “dark money” forces of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the “Kochtopus” network blocked voters from even considering the Outlaw Dirty Money initiative. Anti-‘dirty money’ initiative knocked off ballot in Arizona, Supreme Court rules.

While voters in many states backed pro-voter ballot initiatives this election cycle, North Carolina and North Dakota turned back the clock. Both states imposed new voting requirements that do little more than complicate the voting process, jeopardizing voter turnout in future elections.

[T]he resounding success of pro-voter ballot initiatives on Election Day provides a model for future reforms: Take the question to the people. If state legislators refuse to address voter suppression out of partisan self-interest, voters have now shown that they can make voting easier on their own. Ballot initiatives have emerged as a viable alternative to legislative reform.

I have already provided you with a list of voting rights/election law reforms that can be taken to the ballot by citizens initiative. A reform agenda for voting rights. As I cautioned the Outlaw Dirty Money campaign, “refile the initiative – TODAY! – and give the effort a full year and one-half to collect far more signatures than Republicans can ever hope to disqualify to put it on the ballot in 2020. If it is on the ballot, it will pass.”

For initiative seekers, this is now much more critical than ever. Congratulations, Arizona! Turnout in the 2018 midterms smashed records:

Arizona voter turnout in 2018 will be the highest it has been for a midterm election in 36 years.

Driven by political polarization and growing participation by younger voters and women, a record 2.4 million Arizonans — nearly 65 percent of the state’s registered voters — will have cast a ballot in the November general election, according to estimates.

Only 1982, when the state had a third of the registered voters it does today, saw a bigger share of voters go to the polls, according to Secretary of State’s Office data going back to 1974.

Measured by total ballots cast, only the 2016 presidential election saw more votes in the state.

The impact of this is that it will now require far more petition signatures (and thus more time and money to collect them) to qualify an initiative for the ballot.  The Arizona Capitol Times reports, High voter turnout makes direct democracy more difficult:

The record number of Arizonans who turned out to vote this year has a dark side for direct democracy: It’s going to be harder for voters to propose their own laws or get rid of ones they don’t like.

And that poses a threat to possible petition drives to ban “dark money,” increase education funding and find more transportation dollars – and any voter-led effort to block an anticipated new bid by lawmakers to expand vouchers.

The problem is that state law bases the number of signatures required for referenda and initiatives is linked not to the number of people who live in Arizona, or even to the number of people who have registered to vote. Instead the threshold is determined by how many people voted in the most recent gubernatorial race.

Four years ago, when Doug Ducey won against Democrat Fred DuVal and a host of minor party candidates, the total votes in that race were 1,506,416.

With a 10 percent requirement for statutory changes, it took 150,642 signatures in 2016 and this year to propose a new law; a constitutional amendment, with a 15 percent mandate, was 225,963.

And members of Save Our Schools needed just 75,321 valid signatures – 5 percent – in their successful drive to let voters ratify or reject the measure approved by the Legislature and signed by Ducey to expand who can get vouchers of state dollars to attend private and parochial schools. The expansion was rejected on a 2-1 margin.

But here’s the thing:  Andrew Chavez who owns Petition Partners, figures that the high turnout this year is going to sharply increase those numbers for ballot measures for 2020 and 2022. While a final count has not yet been released, he believes the final tally will come out close to 2.15 million.

That means the next time lawmakers approve an expansion of vouchers — and proponents already are talking about it — Save Our Schools would need close to 108,000 valid signatures [for a referendum] to give voters the final say. That means collecting more than 130,000 to ensure they have enough.

A new state law would require more than 215,000 valid signatures. And the entry fee, if you will, to get a constitutional proposal on the ballot will top 320,000.

In addition to the increased number of signatures needed is the increased cost of collecting those signatures.

Petition Partners and other firms in the business charge based on the number of signatures collected. So Chavez figures anyone who wants to propose a ballot measure for 2020 and will need paid circulators is going to have to have access to more cash.

That, he said, is not a big deal for the special interests with money.

It is a BFD for true grassroots citizens initiatives, however.

Looking to 2020 is former Attorney General Terry Goddard whose proposed constitutional amendment to outlaw “dirty money” influence on political campaigns this year came up short of the needed 225,963 signatures.

“To have a minimum requirement go from 225,000 to 320,000 or something in those versions, that’s a big stretch,” Goddard said.

Here, too, time is everything.

Goddard said circulators, half paid and half volunteers, gathered about 285,000 signers in five months. But he said a much earlier start won’t necessarily generate the nearly 400,000 that would realistically be needed in 2020 to survive a signature challenge.

“It’s hard to keep up enthusiasm over two years,” Goddard said. “So we’re wrestling with that right now.”

My response to this is “Just do it, Terry.” This initiative has failed twice already because initiative managers started far too late in the year and failed to collect enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. No more excuses.

Voter enthusiasm will be there because Arizona is now a battleground state for the 2020 presidential election and there is a special election for the last two years of Sen. McCain’s senate seat. And Democrats are keenly aware of how important 2020 is to redistricting for the next decade.

And there’s something else.

Two years ago the Republican-controlled Legislature threw another hurdle of sorts in the path of groups that want to propose their own laws.

One of those eliminated the ability to pay circulators based on the number of signatures they gathered.

Potentially more significant, lawmakers said initiative petitions must be in “strict compliance” with all election laws.

That’s important because until that time Arizona courts had concluded that petition drives by individuals proposing their own laws and constitutional amendments need be only in “substantial compliance” with the laws. That allowed votes on several measures to go forward despite what judges concluded were technical violations.

A legal challenge to the new strict compliance standard awaits a ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court.

A Democratic state legislature elected in 2020, now within reach, could repeal these GOP voter suppression laws. More incentive.

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