Seeking judicial clarity and the need to avoid voter confusion, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett has filed an appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court which to determine whether or not the Quality Education and Jobs Initiative shall be placed on the November ballot.
Late last month. Bennett disqualified more than 290,000 petition signatures intended to get a 1¢ sales tax initiative on the ballot in November, due to the fact that the bill attached to the initiative did not contain the same text as the bill filed with his office.
In response the Quality Education and Jobs campaign hired a former Supreme Court Justice as their representative and filed a lawsuit, which landed in Judge Robert Oberbillig's court. After a 20 minute hearing on Wednesday, July 18, Judge Oberbillig said, "I honestly don't know why we need to be here." With that, he ordered the initiative to be placed on the ballot in November.
But, now, Bennett has decided to appeal Oberbillig's decision, stating in a press release,
“Our office is extremely concerned with the impact the trial court’s decision could have on future ballot measures,” said Secretary Bennett. “Essentially, the court ruled that a committee can file an initiative with our office and circulate something significantly different. In this particular case, the difference is over $650 million in how tax dollars are allocated. If this ruling were left unchallenged, what would be the point of our prefiling process? How do election officers administer initiatives with two different versions?
“Our office’s procedures are guided by the precise letter of the law and by decades of historical practice. The failure of the initiative committee to circulate the full and correct version attached to its application ensured that this matter was going to be ultimately decided in the state’s highest court.
“We recognize courts have been reluctant to hinder the will of voters regardless of statutory and constitutional requirements. But the lower court’s assertion our office should have made a change to an official filing after months of petition circulation would have drawn litigation from the initiative’s opponents and fails to recognize the realities of administering elections."
However, Bennett is preparing for any decision by the Arizona Supreme Court, and has directed his staff to process signatures as if they were for any other ballot measure filed with his office.
In the meantime, supporters of the initiative, including Campaign Chair Ann-Eve Pedersen, are firmly against Bennett's decision to appeal this ruling. In a press release from the Prop 204 Quality Education and Jobs initiative, sent out the same day Bennett announced that he would appeal the decision, Pedersen stated, "We're disappointed by Secretary Bennett's decision to appeal the court ruling. His job is to facilitate democracy, not obstruct it. By doing the bidding of anti-education forces, he is hurting not only schoolchildren but damaging public trust in the democratic process."
After Oberbillig's ruling, Prop 204 advocates and campaign leaders urged Bennett not to appeal, claiming he would be "...thwarting the will of the voters and incurring additional costs to taxpayers."
"Supporters and opponents of the initiative have strongly held views on the outcome of this appeal, but our mandate is simple: Follow the law," Bennett said. "Our efforts must be focused on the sanctity of our electoral process and it must be protected."
Pedersen says she is confident that they will win the appeal. In preparation for that, they announced support from the Arizona Parent Teachers Association (PTA) and also from Friends of the Arizona School Boards Association. "The law is on our side. We will ultimately prevail," said Pedersen. "The court case is not stopping us from moving forward to mobilize a vast grassroots network to pass Prop. 204 on Nov. 6."