Update: Referendum To Block Universal Vouchers To Fall Short Of Signatures

The Arizona Mirror reports, Campaign to stop AZ universal school vouchers expected to fall short on signatures:

The leader of a volunteer group of public school advocates said Monday that the effort to block universal school vouchers and let voters decide the program’s fate in 2024 is likely short of the number of signatures required to refer the new law to the ballot.

“I think we will end up short, yes,” said Beth Lewis, the executive director of Save Our Schools Arizona.

The concession is a stark reversal: On Friday, the group declared that it was confident that it had ample petition signatures to force the referendum on the law, claiming it had gathered 141,714.

But on Monday morning, that estimate disintegrated — and, along with it, the likelihood that the effort to challenge the expansion to Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program would make the 2024 ballot.

According to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, the group filed 8,175 petition sheets. That means the group would have needed about 17.3 signatures per petition sheet to hit the number of signatures claimed — an impossibility, as there are only 15 lines per sheet.

And in order to meet the 118,823 valid signatures required to successfully block the law from going into effect to put it on the 2024 ballot, Save Our Schools Arizona needs more than 14.5 signatures on every sheet. That essentially means every sheet needs to be full for the measure to succeed.

A cursory review of the petition sheets that the Secretary of State’s Office digitized as part of its initial evaluation process shows very few sheets have all 15 lines full.

The Secretary of State’s Office has 20 days to review the petitions for completeness to ensure they comply with Arizona law. When the review is completed, the office will determine the final tally of signatures. If there are more than the minimum remaining, a sample of the signatures will be sent to county recorders for verification. But if the initial review leaves the effort with too few signatures, that will be the end of the road.

On Monday, the [“Kochtopus”] Goldwater Institute and [religious extremists] Center for Arizona Policy — conservative [anti-democracy] groups that have advocated for the school voucher expansion and marshaled a campaign to hinder Save Our Schools Arizona’s referendum effort — claimed that fewer than 89,000 signatures were actually filed on Friday.

It’s unclear exactly how they came to that figure, but a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office said that the groups had an observer watching as office workers scanned the petitions on Friday.

Lewis told the Arizona Mirror that her group’s estimate was made in good faith.

“It’s impossible to state how hectic the final week, days and hours of the campaign were,” she said. “We did not intentionally fluff any of the numbers. There’s a lot of room for human error.”

Lewis said it was clear that the effort was falling short of the signatures it needed as Friday’s deadline to file approached, so Save Our Schools Arizona mounted a full-court press to retrieve petition sheets from every corner of the state. The result was that an “overwhelming” number of petition sheets were returned in the final days and hours, making it impossible to tally the signatures as they came in.

“This is not us being hacks, this is us being volunteers with our hair on fire,” she said. “It was sheer chaos.”

Note: In this new era of GQP Jim Crow 2.0 voter suppression laws to nullify your constitutional right to citizens initiatives and referenda, it is essential to have professional management and training of vounteers in all aspects of collecting signatures on petitions. Republicans have made it easy for their anti-democracy allies to be able to strike a valid signature of a voter for “ticky-tack” reasons, and this allows them to strike the entire petition page of otherwise valid signatures. There must be strict oversight and quality control, and curating petitions to avoid these pitfalls. This did not happen.

This most recent failure is all the more reason why you must kick Republicans out of office and elect Democrats to all of the top state posts, and elect a Democratic legisature. Republicans are coming for the rest of your right to vote in a democratic election. They have bills ready to go to allow the legislature to set aside your vote and they will decide for you (Rep. Shawnna Bolick already tried this in 2021). You must put an end to GQP authoritarianism.