When many of the western United States’ territories were settling, the progressive movement was in full force. Because of this, constitutions in many of these states were much more forward-looking when it came to citizen participation and power. Hence, the ballot initiative was born in many states, with each adopting its own set of regulations for the process.
Compared to Arizona’s initiative process, some states’ processes are more complicated for citizens seeking to make laws, other states less so.
On the front end of the process, Arizona has a relatively low signature threshold for an initiative to qualify for the ballot. In addition, the state has no geographic requirement for signature collection. It depends on the state, unfortunately. By comparison, some states require sponsors of an initiative to collect a certain number of signatures from counties, legislative districts, or congressional districts.
Two bills making their way through the legislative process in 2019 would send to the 2020 ballot the question of whether to require signatures to be gathered from each Arizona legislative district. The majority of petition signatures under Arizona’s current rules are typically gathered from the metro Phoenix and Tucson areas.
Free Enterprise Club President Scot Mussi said some states’ initiative processes are more rigorous.
“In Florida, if you want to amend the constitution, you need 70 percent of the vote,” Mussi said. “In Nevada, a voter-approved measure has to pass through two general election cycles. Colorado has a 55 percent of the vote on the front-end. You also have to get signatures from every legislative district before it’s on the ballot.”
On the other end of the spectrum, the path to the ballot in some states is less rigorous. For example, although Colorado requires 55 percent of votes for an initiative to pass, sponsors have to collect far fewer signatures, and the state is perceived to have an initiative-friendly judicial system. Consequently, most initiatives find their way onto the ballot by the time of the election.
Arizona’s ballot initiative requirements strike a middle ground, according to Arizona attorney and Democratic consultant Roy Herrera.
“It’s not the most onerous in the world, but it is potentially harder than some other states,” Herrera said. “But I don’t think we should be throwing up barriers. I have to give a bit of credit to citizens and their ability to discern whether or not it’s good for the state.”
However, because of the power of the Voter Protection Act, theLegislature andd the public faces many hurdles if they hope to alter an initiative in the future.
“Most other states don’t have a VPA, or if they do, it’s not as restrictive,” the Free Enterprise Club’s Mussi said. “We have the most onerous and restrictive VPA in the country after initiatives are passed.”