Legal Battle Over Initiatives Could Get Arizona Title Loan Ban on the Ballot

Inside Subprime: August 19, 2019

By Grace Austin

A new legal battle in Arizona is arising after a lawsuit was filed to strike down a statute that would invalidate statewide initiatives. One of the main plaintiffs is a group working to ban title loans in the state. 

The statute can otherwise make qualified signatures illegitimate on a ballot measure.

Attorney Sarah Gonski, who is leading the lawsuit, said the “Strikeout Law” is unconstitutional and that it would discourage citizens in the state from exercising the right to vote through those petitions and ballot initiatives. 

Gonski is asking a U.S. District Court Judge to block Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs from enforcing the requirement.

Arizonans can actually pass constitutional amendments and laws by first garnering enough signatures to put the issue on a ballot and then gathering enough votes.

The 2014 law makes sure that paid petition circulators and those who aren’t residents of the state must register with the Secretary of State or their signatures that have been collected don’t count. It also allows those opponents of a ballot measure to use legal means by subpoenaing those petition circulators. If any circulator who has to register doesn’t show up, then all the signatures that were placed on the ballot can be struck off the record, meaning the initiative might not pass.

A massive amount of subpoenas are issued to all of the people who sign petitions, which can number in the thousands. Opponents say the subpoenas are used to intimidate people from showing up so their signatures can’t be counted. 

The statute was actually upheld in 2018 by the state Supreme Court, which said that it’s within reason to require petition circulators to show up in court and throw out their signatures if they don’t appear.

One plaintiff in the case is Arizonans for Fair Lending, which is currently circulating petitions to get a law on the books to ban title loans. Title loans are high-interest, short-term loans that are given by lenders in exchange for the title of a vehicle. The manager of the campaign said the Strikeout Law has now become a way for opponents to prevent the passage of measures opposed by certain industries or keep special interests from getting directly to voters.

Next Gen Climate Action Committee is the main plaintiff in the lawsuit — the organization pushed an unsuccessful Arizona ballot measure last year to place renewable energy mandates on utilities.

The main circulator was subpoenaed but didn’t show up due to several circumstances, so the thousands of signatures that were gained for the petition were invalidated. 

Next Gen published this statement on the move: “It is an illegitimate, discriminatory, and unconscionable assault on the most fundamental rights of citizens to participate in democracy — all for the benefit of the corporate interests and monopolies that already enjoy too much control over Arizona’s government.”

Attorney Gonski said the law is unfair to circulators, and it also keeps Arizonans from making their own state laws without the legislature.

Gonski also said in the lawsuit that the statute is only applied to ballot measures and not candidacy nominations, which is unfair. The attorney said that fraud is no less likely to occur in ballot measures than nominations.

Learn more about payday loans, scams, and cash advances by checking out our city and state financial guides, including, Arizona, Phoenix, Mesa and more.