Relying on a technicality, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett rejected almost 300,000 signatures gathered by the Quality Education and Jobs Initiative on June 25, the campaign reported in a press release.
Despite the huge number of signatures gathered, Bennett’s decision to reject the gathered signatures will likely keep off the ballot the initiative to add one cent to the sales tax to generate more than a billion a year for schools and highways.
“Unfortunately it now appears doubtful that the one-cent measure will make the ballot,” said Superintendent Casey O’Brien, “It will be a challenging year ahead for AZ schools.”
In response, the initiative’s committee filed a lawsuit on June 27 in Maricopa County Superior Court to overturn Bennett’s decision.
In their press release, the Quality Jobs and Education Committee said, “On March 9, the campaign filed a computer disc that contained a copy of the text that identically matches the copy that was stapled to all 19,071 petition sheets that voters signed, which were submitted to the Secretary of State on Monday, June 25.”
However, Bennett decided to keep the measure off the ballot because a printed-out copy also provided to his office differed from the electronic version submitted on the disk and printed at the top of the petition signature sheets.
In their legal complaint, the campaign said Arizona election law does not require a strict, or absolute following of the law, but only “substantial compliance” with the law.
They insisted the small difference between the electronic version and the printed version of the text of the initiative did not change the intent or interpretation of the initiative. Therefore, when voters signed the petition, they knew what they signed.
And they signed in record numbers. No other initiative in Arizona history has inspired 10 percent of the voters to sign a petition for an initiative, said the campaign.
“The motto of the Secretary of State’s Office is that Arizona voters’ voice and vote count,” said Ann-Eve Pedersen, chair of the Quality Education and Jobs citizens’ initiative in the press release. “For Secretary Bennett to now tell voters that their signatures don’t count and they won’t even have the chance to vote on a measure they overwhelmingly support erodes public confidence in the democratic process.”
The Quality Jobs and Education Initiative would extend the current one-cent sales tax approved by Arizona voters in 2010.
Although the ballot measure earmarked the money for schools and public safety, the Legislature instead set aside half of the money generated by the tax this year to save up for the time when the current one-cent sales tax ends in June of 2013.
The Quality Jobs and Education Initiative would continue the tax beyond that deadline and bar the Legislature from using the money for anything but education and infrastructure improvements.
The president of the Senate opposes the initiative, but numerous businesses have endorsed the campaign.
A Morrison Institute poll reported that education is one of the top five election concerns of Arizona voters.