Bill would add ‘warning labels’ to citizen initiatives on ballots

vote here sign
Arizona voters make their way to a polling place to cast their ballot during the midterm elections on Nov. 6, 2018. Photo by Ralph Freso | Getty Images

Republicans in the Arizona House of Representatives voted Tuesday to place a “warning label” on ballot measures, despite opposition from elections officials, voter advocacy groups and civil rights organizations who said the proposal would confuse voters and influence them to vote against initiative measures.

The legislation, Senate Bill 1020, requires that the ballot contain a “Proposition 105 notification” before every statewide ballot measure informing voters that the Arizona Constitution largely prevents the legislature from changing things approved by voters. 

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, said many Arizona voters come here from other states, and so don’t know about the constitutional provision – approved by voters in 1998 as Proposition 105 – that is commonly referred to as the Voter Protection Act.

The goal is to make it “so people know when they’re voting, the implications of their vote,” Ugenti-Rita told the House Elections Committee Tuesday. 

“I don’t think it will have any other impact other than empowering and informing voters,” she said. 

But critics said the effect would be to dissuade voters from approving ballot propositions by scaring them into thinking there was no way to undo them. Since 1998, Arizona voters have increased the minimum wage, approved higher taxes for education, created public campaign financing and taken redistricting powers away from lawmakers.

Republicans broadly opposed all of those measures.

“A statement before each initiative is a warning of dire consequences and could predispose a voter to vote no,” said Rivko Knox, an activist for the League of Women Voters of Arizona. 

A better place for such a disclosure, Knox said, is the election pamphlets that are sent to every voter prior to the election. 

Others said the language that Ugenti-Rita wants repeated in front of every statewide measure on the ballot wasn’t clear. Barry Aarons, a lobbyist for the American Friends Service Committee, said the bill “lacks necessary clarity that voters need to have.” 

Specifically, he said the bill says the only way to change a voter-approved measure is with a three-fourths legislative majority, and that it fails to say that changes can be made by another citizens’ initiative. 

And Ryan Boyd, a lobbyist for the Arizona Association of Counties, which represents elections officials in all 15 counties, said the language is likely to confuse voters.

“We want to make sure the ballot is a place to make a choice,” he said.

The bill will also increase printing costs, county elections officials said, because it will make ballots longer.  

Ugenti-Rita said she is unsure that adding the language would make the ballot longer or create additional printing costs. She also argued that the language is correct, adding that Legislative Council, attorneys who advise the legislature, approved of the bill’s language. 

“I think this is an unnecessary move,” Rep. Raquel Teran, D-Phoenix, said, adding that she is worried it could create “voter fatigue” as voters see the ballots getting longer and longer.

SB1020 ultimately passed along party lines with Republican support, though even some of its backers expressed wariness. 

“I’m a little bit conflicted with doing it on the ballot itself,” Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, said, adding that he has concerns about cluttering the ballot. But getting voters information about the Voter Protection Act is important, he said. 

The Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, Secretary of State’s Office and the American Civil Liberties Union are all opposed to SB1020. 

The bill passed will head next to the full House for a vote. If it passes, it will be sent to the governor to be signed into law.