After a battle in the courtroom, the non-partisan Arizona Open Primary initiative, known as the "Open Elections/Open Government Initiative," has been cleared for placement on November's general election ballot.
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Open Elections/Open Government initiative will be on November ballot Court ruling paves the way for initiative opening all elections to all voters
Two days after just 23 percent of Arizona voters cast ballots in the state’s closed partisan Primary election, a Maricopa Superior Court Judge ruled today that a proposed constitutional amendment that would do away with those Primaries and open all elections to all voters will be placed on the November ballot.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Rea ruled that Maricopa County elections officials were wrong in declaring hundreds of signatures of voters contained on the initiative petitions invalid, ordering those signatures restored. As a result of the ruling, those signatures now provide a more than sufficient margin for the measure to qualify for the November ballot.
In a separate ruling, Judge Rea also dismissed a suit filed by the political committee opposing our initiative which argued that the petition process and signatures gathered by the campaign were faulty.
“This is a huge win for the voters of Arizona and another defeat for the political bosses and lobbyists who are trying to stop us,” said Paul Johnson, Chairman of the Open Elections/Open Government campaign.
Since the campaign filed petitions for the proposed constitutional amendment on July 5th, election officials in each of Arizona’s 15 counties carried out a statutorily-required validation process reviewing a representative sample of petition signatures. That process determines if the measure qualifies for the ballot.
While counties outside of Maricopa County reported an average validation rate that would have allowed the measure to easily qualify for the ballot, the rate reported by Maricopa County official was significantly lower. As the state’s most populous county, erroneous results in Maricopa County could have nullified the higher and more accurate numbers from all other counties combined.
Since Maricopa elections officials certified the validation report last Wednesday, the campaign volunteers conducted an extensive review of the County report and the signatures deemed invalid. In evidence presented to the court, the campaign provided signed statements by voters attesting that they did indeed sign the initiative petition, even though County officials claimed their signature on the petitions did not match their signature on their voter registration form. Other signatures were simply restored by the court after the campaign discovered and pointed out that, contrary to election officials, those individuals were indeed registered voters and listed on County records.
Ironically, the ruling comes the same week of Arizona’s closed partisan Primary election. On Tuesday, results from partisan Primaries in heavily gerrymandered districts have already determined the outcome of races for over 2/3rds of the 90 seats in the Arizona Legislature and six of the state’s nine representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives. With no or at best token opposition, the November election for those seats is just a formality.
The proposed Open Elections/Open Government Act would do away with the current Primary elections in Arizona in which only a limited number of voters now participate and are only permitted to cast ballots for the partisan candidates from one party. In its place there would be a Primary election open to all voters and all candidates. The top two vote-getters of that election, regardless of Party label, would then advance to the November general election, offering more choices to more voters in both the Primary and General elections.
The measure is supported by a wide variety of business and community organizations, including Greater Phoenix Leadership, the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, the Flagstaff 40, and numerous other organizations.
The measure is opposed by leaders of both houses of the Arizona Legislature, former state Senator Russell Pearce, Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, and dozens of the top lobbyists at the State Capitol, among others.
This is not the first roadblock initiative backers have overcome since filing a record number of petition signatures in order to place the initiative on the ballot. Earlier this month, the Arizona Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit filed by Wilcox and lobbyist Jamie Molera attempting to block the initiative from going to the ballot.
Wilcox and Molera filed that suit after Governor Jan Brewer and legislative leaders failed in an attempt in late June to convene a special session of the Legislature in order to place a competing referendum on the ballot that legislators admitted was designed to confuse voters.
“Four times since a record number of petitions were filed to place the initiative on the ballot, we needed to go to court to preserve the rights of Arizona voters to vote on this important amendment,” said Johnson. “The hyper-partisan political bosses who like things just the way they are know the best way to defeat Open Elections/Open Government initiative is to stop it from going to the ballot. It’s now time to let the voters decide.”