Lawsuit Filed Challenging Secretary of State Ken Bennett's Decision to Reject 290,849 Quality Education and Jobs Signatures
Which is valid? The paper copy, scanned and published on the Secretary of State's website, or the digital copy on a CD? That's the question to be decided by a Maricopa County Superior Court judge.
When the Quality Education and Jobs Committee filed their intent to circulate petitions on March 9, 2012, they provided two copies of the initiative to the Secretary of State's office. One copy was a paper copy. One copy was digital, handed in on a CD.
You can view the original paper copy of their application on the Secretary of State's website. It was given a Serial Number of I-16-2012. The application was turned in and signed by the Quality Education and Jobs Committee Chair Ann-Eve Pedersen on March 9, 2012. It was date and time stamped by the Secretary of State's office: 2012Mar - 9 AM 10:08
In addition, a paper copy of the text of the initiative, given a formal short name of "Quality Education and Jobs Act," was attached to the application. That was also date and time stamped, while Pedersen was there.
- Page 1: Time stamp: 2012Mar - 9 AM 10:08
- Pages 2-6: Page 1: Time stamp: 2012Mar - 9 AM 10:09
- Page 7-12: Time stamp: 2012Mar - 9 AM 10:10
- Page 13-14: Page 1: Time stamp: 2012Mar - 9 AM 10:11
All the datestamps were upside down on the bottom right corner of the pages.
Then, according to Matt Roberts, Director of Communications for the Secretary of State, Pedersen was given a copy of the date and time stamped application and the attached text.
What Are the Required Procedures?
This was all done in accordance to the Secretary of State's Handbook, and the law:
Submitting the Application [A.R.S. § 19-111]
To submit an application, the committee must bring in a completed original application.
The application will be date stamped and a copy will be given to the committee. The copy acts
as a receipt of the application.
Arizona Revised Statute 19-111 is rather clear:
"A person or organization intending to propose a law or constitutional amendment by initiative petition or to file a referendum petition against a measure, item, section or part of a measure, before causing the petition to be printed and circulated, shall file with the secretary of state an application, on a form to be provided by the secretary of state, setting forth his name or, if an organization, its name and the names and titles of its officers, address, his intention to circulate and file a petition, a description of no more than one hundred words of the principal provisions of the proposed law, constitutional amendment or measure and the text of the proposed law, constitutional amendment or measure to be initiated or referred in no less than eight point type, and applying for issuance of an official serial number." (Bold letters added by editor.)
AZSoS.gov website) does it indicate that a digital copy is acceptable. Neither does it preclude a digital copy; although the form was apparently last revised in 11/1992, before computers were in common use.Nowhere on that form (found on the
So, what about that digital copy the Quality Education and Jobs Committee provided? According to Roberts, it was not date stamped, "It was a courtesy copy. We simply took the CD and stuffed it into a folder."
When asked if the form provided by the SoS office asks for a CD of the initiative, Roberts replied, "No. Completed original copy only."
The bottom line is that the official copy turned in by Pedersen was on paper. It was then date stamped while she waited, and she received a copy of that official application and the text of the initiative as her receipt.
There is no indication that she ever told them the version on the CD was the correct one, whereas the printed copy she turned in was incorrect.
Thus, when the Secretary of State's office received the petition signatures, all of which had the incorrect text attached to them, they were declared invalid, "You are hereby notified that the inititative measure, I-16-2012, Quality Education and Jobs, has not met the signature requirements for placement on the ballot at the next general election," Bennett wrote on June 26.
Claiming that the differences between the circulated text and the official text are merely a "hyper-technicality" and that the circulated text is "substantially" the same, Pedersen and the Quality Education and Jobs Committee filed a lawsuit which attempts to force the Secretary of State to accept the petititon signatures.
Bennett expected the lawsuit, and even welcomed it, stating in his letter to Pedersen explaining his reasons for rejecting the petitions, "Because the variance in text circulated versus the official filing with the Secretary's office is one not decided prior to today, it is our understanding that interested parties may seek judicial intervention to overturn the action taken by this office detailed herein. We look forward to this clarification should it be pursued by either the Committee or other stakeholders."
To understand the differences between the two versions, read Signatures on 'Quality Education and Jobs' Initiative Called Into Question
Below is the press release sent out on Wednesday from the Quality Education and Jobs Committee:
PHOENIX, Ariz. - The Quality Education and Jobs Committee today filed a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court challenging Secretary of State Ken Bennett's rejection of 290,849 signatures to qualify the citizens' initiative for the Nov. 6 ballot. Click Here to read complaint.
In its legal complaint against Bennett, the committee asked the court to overturn his decision, arguing that Bennett's decision violates state law, legislative intent and the Arizona Constitution. The complaint, filed by former Arizona Chief Justice Stanley Feldman as the lead attorney, stated that Secretary Bennett, by rejecting the signatures, has "failed to perform a duty required by law as to which he has no discretion." The committee asked for the case to be heard quickly because of election deadlines.
"The motto of the Secretary of State's Office is that Arizona voters' voice and vote count," said Ann-Eve Pedersen, chair of the Quality Education and Jobs citizens' initiative. "For Secretary Bennett to now tell voters that their signatures don't count and they won't even have the chance to vote on a measure they overwhelmingly support erodes public confidence in government and in the democratic process."
The committee is confident that the courts will overturn Bennett's decision. In a letter to the campaign emailed on Tuesday, Bennett cited a hyper-technicality as the reason he decided to disqualify 290,849 signatures - the most ever collected in Arizona history for a statutory citizens' initiative, nearly 10 percent of all registered Arizona voters.
On March 9, the campaign filed a computer disc that contained a copy of the text that identically matches the copy that was stapled to all 19,071 petition sheets that voters signed, which were submitted to the Secretary of State on Monday, June 25. Bennett claims that because a printed-out copy also provided to his office had a slight variance from the electronic version, he will not allow Arizonans to vote on the initiative this fall.
Nothing in Arizona law states that a paper copy of the ballot text, as opposed to an electronic version, dis the "full and correct" text that must be attached to each petition.
Arizona law, which requires substantial compliance, rather than strict compliance, as to citizen's initiatives, favors the Quality Education and Jobs legal arguments.
The Arizona Constitution does not outline any pre-registration requirements. However, Article 4, Part 1 of the Arizona Constitution does state that "when any initiative...shall be filed...with the Secretary of State, he shall cause to be printed on the official ballot in the next regular general election the title and number of said measure..."
When the Legislature passed laws governing the pre-registration requirements, they specifically stated that the: "right of initiative...shall be broadly construed...and the effect of a failure to comply with these requirements shall not destroy the presumption of validity of citizens' signatures, petitions or the initiated...measure, unless the...statute or Constitution expressly and explicitly makes any fatal departure from the terms of the law."
So, legislators specifically stated that a hyper-technicality is not cause to throw a citizens' initiative off the ballot, unless the statute or Constitution say that it is, which they do not in this case.
"Nearly 300,000 voters of Arizona have spoken," said Pedersen. "They want all voters to have the opportunity to provide permanent, dedicated revenue for education funding. They want to prevent the Legislature from making further cuts to K-12 education. They want to invest in the state's children, the state's economy and the state's future."
"We must assure that voter rights guaranteed by Arizona's Constitution are upheld," Pedersen said. "This issue now is bigger than just protecting the state's schoolchildren, it's about protecting the Constitutional rights of all Arizonans."
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