EDITORIAL: Arizona law is clear on petitions

Green Valley News and Sun
Saturday, June 30, 2012

This editorial was written and originally appeared in the Sierra Vista Herald.

Sometimes the law has to be the law. It’s black and white, not gray.

That is the situation for Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who on Tuesday rejected petitions with more than 290,000 signatures from supporters of the Quality Education and Jobs initiative.

The petitions sought to put a question on the Nov. 6 ballot asking Arizonans if they want to continue the 1-cent sales tax set to expire this year.

Money collected by the tax, which amounts to almost $1 billion, would be allocated to education, road construction, and other state-funded efforts.

Collecting more than 290,000 of anything is a remarkable accomplishment. And in this case, supporters of the sales tax collected an estimated 41 percent more signatures than the 172,000 required to put the question on the ballot.

But there’s a fly in this soup.

Missing information

Just before the petitions were filed with the Secretary of State, a taxpayer group in Arizona discovered that the printed version of the petition was missing two paragraphs of language that appeared in the online version of the petition.

The Arizona Tax Research Association discovered the difference, which in the online version states that if more than $1.5 billion is raised by the 1-cent sales tax, $350 million would be allocated to higher education programs.

Ann-Eve Pedersen, the spokeswoman for the petition drive, has classified the two-paragraph difference as “hyper-technical,” in public statements. Further, she argues that Arizona law will find in favor of the group, under provisions of “substantial compliance,” outlined in the state’s Constitution.

But what choice does Bennett have when it comes to the letter of the law?

Clerical error or not, the Secretary of State must live by the statutes, which in this case required more than 172,000 signatures from registered voters on the same petition.

If there is room to fudge, that will be found in the judicial branch. Organizers of the effort are expected to sue the Secretary of State and hope to get a judge to require that the measure be on the Nov. 6 ballot.