Two Republican ballot measures that will restrict how citizens can get their own priorities on the ballot in the future were approved by voters in Arizona, while one measure to institute stricter voter ID requirements failed.
The mixed messages sent by voters on these measures aligned with the state’s increasingly purple, swing-state style, where candidates and proposals that win come from both sides of the aisle.
Groups planning to run initiatives will now need those measures to focus on a single subject. For measures that seek to increase taxes, they’ll now need to get a 60% supermajority of votes for approval. The tax increase measure passed narrowly, with 50.7% in favor, while the single subject question received 55% of the vote.
“The irony is that, with such a slim majority, just over 30,000 votes, voters gave away their authority to have a simple majority make decisions,” said Stacy Pearson, a spokesperson for Will of the People Arizona, the campaign against the three initiative-related measures.
A third measure aimed at restricting the citizens’ initiative process by allowing lawmakers to tinker with measures after they passed netted just 36% of voters in favor, failing at the ballot.
The Republican-controlled state legislature, which sent questions to the ballot on eight topics this year, from in-state tuition for undocumented students to tax increases to fund rural fire districts.
Progressive policies rarely find an audience at the legislature, so groups have used direct democracy to enact them instead, often at a cost of many millions of dollars while facing an intense, well-funded opposition and lawsuits that seek to throw the measures off the ballot. In recent years, citizens initiatives in Arizona created a higher minimum wage and recreational marijuana legalization. This year, two initiatives from the public passed, one of which will increase disclosures of dark money spent on elections and another that limits medical debt.
The new restrictions will be in place for the 2024 election, where abortion rights advocates are eyeing a potential ballot measure to enshrine access to abortion. They hinder initiatives come after years of restrictions from the legislature that have made the process more costly and difficult.
Groups that run initiatives fear the new measures will mean even fewer policies can make the ballot and that the new restrictions won’t be applied narrowly. Citizens’ initiatives can’t cost the state money, so they often come with fees or tax structures to fund themselves, which they worry may be construed as a tax measure that needs 60% approval.
As for single subjects, most measures cross various parts of state law to ensure they’re enacted completely, so initiative users aren’t sure how courts will construe how a single-subject rule applies to them.
Running ballot measures will become more expensive, and there will be more avenues for litigation against them, Pearson said. “I think anyone looking at initiatives in Arizona needs to find clarity on the definition of a tax increase … It just complicates what should be a very simple decision for voters,” she said.
The voter ID measure, which had the backing of the Arizona Republican party, narrowly failed, coming in with about 49.6% of the vote. It would have required additional information from voters on mail-in ballots, including a date of birth and an ID number, and eliminated an option for in-person voters to prove their identity and address using documents like utility bills and bank statements.
Opponents to the measure warned that the additional requirements could disenfranchise voters and expose their personal information to potential identity theft, while proponents said the voter ID law would make voting by mail, the main way Arizonans vote, more secure.