Arizona is on pace for a record turnout in the 2018 midterm elections. With roughly 172,000 ballots left to be counted, turnout already stands at more than 60 percent, and likely will eclipse the 60.47 percent of the electorate that cast ballots in 2006.
The surge in turnout carried Democrats to victory up and down the ballot in Arizona, but it will also have an effect on elections for the next four years: The estimated 2.4 million ballots cast will make it much more difficult for groups to place initiatives on the ballot or block laws passed by the Legislature by sending them to voters.
Citizens initiatives and referenda – when laws are sent to the ballot for voter approval – happen when the required number of voters sign a petition. The number of signatures needed is determined by how many people voted in the most recent gubernatorial election.
Elections officials have already counted 2,155,731 votes in the governor’s race between Doug Ducey and David Garcia. It’s likely that figure will grow by at least 150,000 by the time the last vote is counted, making the total number of votes cast in the race more than 2.3 million.
Citizens initiatives that aim to change state law must gather the signatures of 10 percent of the number of votes in the governor’s race to qualify for the ballot. Initiatives that would amend the Arizona Constitution need 15 percent. And referenda have to get signatures equaling 5 percent of that figure, which are gathered in the 90 days following the end of a legislative session.
In 2014, the Ducey and Fred DuVal governor’s race totaled only a little more than 1.5 million votes. The signature requirements in 2016 and 2018 were 225,963 for constitutional changes, 150,642 for statutory changes and 75,321 for referenda.
The 2018 turnout increase of more than 50 percent over 2014’s governor’s race means those signature requirements are going to jump by more than 50 percent, too.
We won’t know the final requirements for the 2020 and 2022 elections until after the secretary of state completes the statewide canvass later this month, but we can expect constitutional changes to require roughly 345,000 signatures, statutory changes to require about 230,000 and referenda to require approximately 115,000.
Initiative efforts in Arizona have long been the best way for liberal groups to enact their favored policies, since voters are often much more receptive to them than are the Republican lawmakers who control the legislature.
And since initiative efforts are almost always driven by paid efforts to gather signatures, not volunteers, that means campaigns to place measures on the ballot are going to have to start earlier and will cost more.