Groups Call Arizona Initiative Unconstitutional

     PHOENIX (CN) - An initiative measure aimed for the November ballot would unconstitutionally change the state's primary election system and dilute minority voting strength, the League of Women Voters and others claim in Superior Court.
     The plaintiffs are three voters, including a former state schools superintendent, the League of Women Voters of Arizona, and Save Our Vote, Opposing C-03-2012.
     Defendants are Secretary of State Ken Bennett and the Open Government Committee, which collected signatures and submitted the petitions to put the initiative on the ballot. It claims to have more than the 259,213 signatures needed, but the secretary of state has not yet acted on the petitions, which were submitted on July 5.
     Save Our Vote, the lead plaintiff, describes itself as a committee seeking to preserve "the democratic process in Arizona and advocating in opposition the election schemes such as those proposed in the initiative."
     It claims the initiative, the so-called Open Elections/Open Government Act "consists of a legion of amendments to Arizona law by imposing constitutional principles that nullify or supersede scores of existing constitutional, statutory, and code provisions, and regulations dealing generally with elections."
     The act seeks to repeal "the existing law for selecting general election candidates for all federal, state, county, and local elective offices except for nonpartisan elections and elections for president and vice president of the United States, and replacing it with a new primary-general election procedure," the plaintiffs claim.
     According to the complaint, the measure would eliminate "partisan primaries," would require that "'the two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary election shall compete in the general election' and that 'the number of candidates who compete in the general election shall be the number of candidates to be elected times two.'"
     Plaintiffs claim the act also would repeal "the existing requirements for nomination signature gathering and leaving it to the Legislature to establish a new signature requirement by law, except that 'signature requirements ... shall be the same for all candidates for that office, regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof.'"
     These amendments "constitute several different subjects that, when presented in one initiative, violate the Arizona Constitution's separate amendment rule," according to the complaint.
     The plaintiffs say that each petition signature sheet seeking "support from voters" contains a summary of the initiative that "fails to address or mention many of the initiative's substantive provisions."
     The measure "proposes repealing both Arizona's existing (a) direct primary election system and general election system for nominating candidates for public office and (b) open primary for Independent voters, voters registered with no party preference, and voters of a political party that is not entitled to continued representation on the ballot," the complaint states.
     "The proposed indirect elimination of general election ballot access for Independents and third parties such as Libertarians and Green Party members is not topically related to nor is it sufficiently interrelated to constitute a consistent and workable whole with the proposed established of a top-two primary system," the complaint states.
     It continues: "Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act protects the ability of voters in majority-minority districts to elect the candidates of their choice.
     "Creation of a majority-minority district protects against vote dilution to minority voting strength and, in Arizona, often involves protection of Hispanic and Native American voters.
     "Under the initiative, the two candidates who receive the most votes for a particular office in minority-majority districts will advance to the general election.
     "In a minority-majority district, the presence of several minority candidates on a primary election ballot will dilute the voting strength of minority voters such that non-minority voters can coalesce behind two non-minority candidates. Under these conditions, the comparative voting strength of the non-minority voters can overcome the voting strength of minority voters, sending two non-minority candidates to the general election ballot. Such a scenario directly interferes with federal law and policy designed to protect against vote dilution among minorities."
     The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment that the measure violates the Arizona Constitution, that the signatures on the petitions are invalid, and an injunction stopping Bennett from placing the initiative on a ballot.
     They are represented by Michael Liburdi and Adam Lang with Snell & Wilmer.