PHOENIX -- The Arizona Secretary of State on Tuesday certified that more than enough valid signatures were turned in to let voters decide if a Republican-backed law making sweeping changes to election laws goes into effect.
Barring legal challenges expected from backers of the law, the referendum on House Bill 2305 will appear on the November 2014 ballot. In the meantime, the bill passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature in June is on hold.
Democrats called the law passed with only Republican votes and signed into law by GOP Gov. Jan Brewer a thinly veiled effort to keep Republicans in power by creating new hurdles for low-income voters and some candidates. Opponents began a petition drive in July with volunteers and paid circulators and turned in more than 144,000 petition signatures on Sept. 11.
Secretary of State Ken Bennett's office tossed out about 5,000 signatures as invalid, and sent a 5 percent sample of the rest to election officials in Arizona's 15 counties for spot checks earlier this month. Those reviews cut another 26,440 signatures, meaning 110,770 were declared valid.
Only 86,405 valid signatures were needed to force the referendum.
Opponents vowed to challenge the signatures in court.
``This is early in the process,'' said Barrett Marson, a spokesman for two groups opposed to the referendum effort. ``There are thousands and thousands of questionable signatures that were collected by questionable circulators - people who don't have residency here as required by state law and who didn't fill out paperwork as required by the Secretary of State's office or are felons and collected signatures.''
Robbie Sherwood, spokesman for the Protect Your Right To Vote Committee which spearheaded the effort, said the validation rate of more than 80 percent was ``just unheard of in an effort like this.''
``What the certification tells us is today is a big win for Arizona voters and for voting rights,'' Sherwood said. ``But it's only part of the battle. We're prepared to fend off any legal challenges that may arise, and we expect to be on the ballot on November 4 (2014).
``And when that happens we're also confident that Arizona voters are going to toss these absolutely unnecessary changes in the dumpster where they belong,'' he added.
HB2305 seeks to trim Arizona's permanent early voting list by cutting non-active voters and limits who may return mail-in ballots for voters. It also ups the number of signatures third-party candidates must gather to appear on the ballot, a provision that infuriated Libertarians because it would require them to collect as many signatures as major party candidates to get on the ballot.
Other changes would require signature gatherers to organize their filings by county and tightens language requirements for initiatives, making them easier for opponents to challenge.