High voter turnout makes direct democracy more difficult

By Howard Fischer | Capitol Media Services via Arizona Capitol Times

That record number of Arizonans who turned out to vote this year has a dark side for direct democracy: It’s going to be harder for voters to propose their own laws or get rid of ones they don’t like.

And that poses a threat to possible petition drives to ban “dark money,” increase education funding and find more transportation dollars – and any voter-led effort to block an anticipated new bid by lawmakers to expand vouchers.

The problem is that state law bases the number of signatures required for referenda and initiatives is linked not to the number of people who live in Arizona, or even to the number of people who have registered to vote. Instead the threshold is determined by how many people voted in the most recent gubernatorial race.

Four years ago, when Doug Ducey won against Democrat Fred DuVal and a host of minor party candidates, the total votes in that race were 1,506,416.

With a 10 percent requirement for statutory changes, it took 150,642 signatures in 2016 and this year to propose a new law; a constitutional amendment, with a 15 percent mandate, was 225,963.

And members of Save Our Schools needed just 75,321 valid signatures – 5 percent – in their successful drive to let voters ratify or reject the measure approved by the Legislature and signed by Ducey to expand who can get vouchers of state dollars to attend private and parochial schools. The expansion was rejected on a 2-1 margin.

But here’s the thing:  Andrew Chavez who owns Petition Partners, figures that the high turnout this year is going to sharply increase those numbers for ballot measures for 2020 and 2022. While a final count has not yet been released, he believes the final tally will come out close to 2.15 million.

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