Misleading Ballot Initiatives Should Be Thrown Out By The Courts

Misleading Ballot Initiatives Should Be Thrown Out By The Courts

There is an obvious reason why our state is constantly being preyed upon by out of state interests, pushing radical ideas every cycle at the ballot box as “citizen initiatives”. Arizona has exceptionally low standards for qualification compared to other states.  

Despite extremely high stakes, (if an initiative passes it is basically permanent and can never be changed), none of the best practices applied in other states have been adopted.  A measure only requires a simple majority passage.  Proponents do not need buy-in from the whole state, only the major metropolitan areas.  There is no required sunset on the measure to allow an ever-changing electorate to revisit the issue.  And a measure need not be restricted to just one subject but instead may be packed with a myriad of policies even if the campaign only ever promotes one “winning” issue.  Even up to two years ago, campaigns could hire felons to collect signatures.

Most citizens intuitively know there is something wrong with the initiative process.  Polling done in 2019 demonstrated clearly that voters believe these measures are intentionally misleading and confusing.  Of those polled, 70 percent of individuals were concerned with ballot language being confusing and the intent difficult to understand.  This applied across party lines.

And groups pushing these initiatives have fully taken advantage of the confusion and lack of guardrails. 

Therefore, it was a major win in 2018 when groups challenged the InvestInEd initiative’s 100-word description for being misleading to voters and the courts ruled in their favor.  The education union had very clearly made several serious misrepresentations in their description to voters, by both omitting the fact that all taxpayers were going to see a tax increase as well as wrongly confusing their tax on the rich as percent increases not percentage-point increases. 

This set a new and needed precedent.  Initiative proponents cannot lie to voters to make their initiative seem more palatable.  In other circumstances, lying for material benefit is called fraud.

These radical measures are back this year and luckily so are the legal challenges. Although the education union has done much to rewrite the 2018 version of InvestInEd in their effort to make the public more accepting of a massive new tax increase, they have still failed to be completely transparent about what the measure purports to do.  Challengers are again making the argument that the 100-word summary of the petition which is usually what singers read (not the entire initiative language) omits critical information about the measure including that many businesses and higher income persons would see an almost 80 percent increase in their taxes.  The description also fails to mention that new funds generated do not only go to teachers but to any non-administrative employee.

Hopefully, the courts make the right decision again and do not erode the previous legal determinations.  Afterall, given the few safeguards in place to qualify a measure, the very least we can expect is proponents are not allowed to obfuscate the truth to get their proposal passed.