Arizona Supreme Court Tosses Attempt to Block Minimum-Wage Ballot Initiative

Workers rally in Tempe for a minimum wage raise in 2015.
Workers rally in Tempe for a minimum wage raise in 2015.
Elizabeth Stuart

A ballot initiative to raise Arizona's minimum wage has (once again) been cleared for a vote in November.

The Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld an earlier decision to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the validity of signatures gathered in support of the initiative, Proposition 206, which proposes to increase wages incrementally from $8.05 to $12 by 2020.

"The Arizona Restaurant Association pulled out every stop in an effort to try to kill this and they failed," said Bill Scheel, campaign manager for Arizonans for Fair Wages and Healthy Families, the group pushing the initiative.

The next step for the group, which lost "a very stressful" month of campaign time because of the lawsuit, is to begin "ramping up" promotional efforts, Scheel said. Campaigners hope to knock 400,000 doors by election day.

"Arizona voters like these policies, and we are thrilled they will finally get the opportunity to vote for them," he said. 

Arizona Restaurant Association president and CEO Steve Chucri, in a statement, criticized the court for throwing out the lawsuit on a "narrow technicality."

"The laws that are in place to protect voters and the initiative process from noncompliant political committees and petition circulators exist for a reason, and the court's ruling overlooks those important interests in favor of a technicality," Chucri said. "Arizona's voters and the state's small businesses are the ones truly harmed by permitting this insufficient initiative to go to ballot."

A Maricopa County Court judge identified problems with tens of thousands of the signatures Arizonans for Fair Wages and Healthy Families submitted in support of the campaign. Had the suit prevailed, the signatures would have been determined invalid and Arizonans for Fair Wages and Healthy Families would have fallen short of the 150,642 required to get the minimum-wage hike on the ballot.

Ultimately, however, the judge dismissed the case because the Arizona Restaurant Association had filed suit too late.

Challengers must file a lawsuit no more than five days after the deadline to submit signatures. The Arizona Restaurant Association, arguing that legislators who wrote the law intended to allow five business days, had waited seven days.

Arizona places stricter regulations on the use of paid, out-of-state circulators than nearly any other state, Andrew Chavez, owner of Petition Partners, told New Times. Each year, the rules, which stipulate everything from the dimensions of the paper campaigners must use to collect signatures to the format they must use to write the date, get more complicated. 

Legislators tout the nitpicky rules as a fraud-prevention tool. But critics describe them as a political tool. 

This year, for the first time, challengers were allowed to issue subpoenas to circulators if they suspected the workers were not properly authorized to collect signatures or had not correctly filed their paperwork. 

Lawyers for the Arizona Restaurant Association summoned more than 80 circulators to court. Half didn't show up, so the signatures they collected, amounting to more than 50,000, were automatically invalidated.

Likewise, some signatures were tossed because circulators failed to register with the secretary of state before hitting the streets. Some circulators made paperwork errors, such as listing the wrong year or leaving off an apartment number. 

"We are happy the state Supreme Court saw through the petty tactics of the Arizona Restaurant Association and cleared the way for voters to decide on an initiative designed to improve the lives of our fellow citizens," said Tomas Robles, former director of LUCHA (Living United for Change in Arizona) who now chairs the campaign for Arizonans for Fair Wages and Healthy Families.


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