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Direct democracy in Arizona reaches the century mark, painting a rich history

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February 14, 2012

Edited by: Al Ortiz and Joshua Williams

Contact: Brittany Clingen

PHOENIX, Arizona: Across the country, 26 states are allowed to propose citizen initiatives, veto referendums or both. For one of those states, today symbolizes a significant milestone in its statehood, constitution and direct democracy.

Today, February 14, is Arizona's 100th anniversary of the enactment of the state constitution, and with it, the process of initiative and referendum.

100th I&R Anniversary

In 1910, the Arizona Territory was authorized to hold a constitutional convention at which the constitution was drafted and submitted to Congress. The original constitution was approved by Congress, however subsequently vetoed by President William H. Taft on his objections concerning the recalling of judges. The constitution was amended by the constitutional convention, removing the provision about judicial recall and was resubmitted. President Taft approved Arizona's statehood as the 48th U.S. state on February 14, 1912.

Below are some details about Arizona's I&R history and initiative highlights. Ballotpedia also caught up with Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett for a short question and answer session.

State initiative and referendum process

Arizona's initiative and referendum process is as old as the Arizona Constitution itself, lasting a full 100 years where citizens could propose statutes, amendments and veto referendums. In the most recent decade, since 2000, citizens have used the I&R process to place 29 ballot measures on statewide ballots.

However, as most recent history has shown, only a small percentage of measures proposed across the country actually make the ballot. In 2010 and 2011, only about 8% of filed initiatives were decided at the polls.

Arizona is no exception. In 2010 alone, 20 initiatives were filed with the Arizona Secretary of State. Only one measure ended up making the ballot that year. The state's initiative procedure has multiple steps that must be followed to gain ballot access, leaving for a difficult road ahead for proposal supporters.

Prior to collecting signatures, initiative proponents must file an application to petition with the Arizona Secretary of State. The application must include the name(s) of the proponent, a summary of the measure, and the text of the measure. In addition, the proponents must file a statement of organization; registering the political committee for campaign finance purposes.

Petitions must include a brief description of the measure prepared by the sponsors of initiative. In addition, the title and full text of the bill must be attached to all signature sheets. The title is also determined by initiative proponents.

The number of signatures required to qualify an initiative for the ballot is tied to the number of votes cast for the office of Arizona governor in the most recent gubernatorial election. The number of signatures to qualify a statute is 10% of votes cast for governor and 15% to qualify a constitutional amendment. The number of signatures required to qualify a veto referendum is 5% of votes cast for governor. Once the signatures are submitted, they are validated via random sampling by state election officials. This process usually takes about a month.

If signature requirements are met, qualified initiatives will then be placed on the next statewide general election ballot.


In 100 years of Arizona ballot history, state citizens have voted on 172 initiated constitutional amendment and initiated state statute in 46 different election years. Of those measures, 72 (or 42%) were approved.[1] The year with the most citizen initiatives on the ballot was 1914, with 15 measures. That year was also the year the most citizen initiatives were approved, as seven citizen proposals passed. Other years to see 10 or more citizen initiatives were 1916 (10), 1950 (12), and 2006 (10).[2]

The following four charts display the number of initiatives, by year, that were on Arizona statewide ballots:[1]

AZ1228.png AZ3052.png AZ5680.png AZ8210.png

Initiative highlights

With the rich history behind the initiative and referendum process in the Grand Canyon State, naturally there have been controversial, interesting and odd initiatives that have found a spot on the statewide ballot over the years. The following is a summary of some notable measures found on the archive of Arizona ballot measures on Ballotpedia.

Category:English language, ArizonaPolitical recall efforts by state#tab=ArizonaCategory:Labor and unions, ArizonaCategory:Marijuana, ArizonaCategory:Elections and campaigns, ArizonaList of Arizona ballot measures#Initiative highlightsAZhighlights.png

Starting from the very beginning, the first initiative voted upon was a 1912 initiated constitutional amendment which gave suffrage to women. The measure was approved, accomplishing a milestone in statewide politics.

The issue of alcohol played a role in one of the most controversial ballot measures in the state. Two decades after the 1912 vote, in 1932, a citizen initiative repealed prohibition in the state a little over a year before it was repealed by the 21st Amendment of the U.S. constitution.

In the 80's, an issue still in the political spotlight today was placed on the ballot. In 1988, an initiative (Proposition 106) was approved that made English the official language of the state in a vote that had a margin of only around one percent. That amendment would later be overturned by the courts.

The most recent initiative voted upon was Proposition 203 in 2010, which allowed residents in the state with specific medical conditions to be treated with certain amounts of marijuana for personal use.

Sponsors of the proposed initiative submitted their qualifying signatures to election officials in the state in April 2010 and on June 1, 2010, the Arizona Secretary of State qualified the measure. It was verified at the time that the effort had collected enough signatures for ballot access. The Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project was the main sponsor of the measure. Arizona became the 15th state to legalize the use of medical marijuana with the passage of the amendment.

For 2012, 20 initiatives have been filed in hopes for the November 6 general election ballot. Among the notable measures that have been filed include a gambling proposal that would allow gambling in the state at privately-owned casinos and racetracks, a "Workers' Rights Act" that would give a legal claim to anyone who had their employment terminated for conduct outside of the employment relationship, and a "Victimless Crime Act" initiative that would mandate that individuals could only be prosecuted for crimes that have definite victims, such as, other individuals, property, or animals.

Supporters of ballot initiative efforts have until the July 5, 2012 petition drive deadline to turn in the required amount of signatures for their proposals. Signature requirements for ballot initiative efforts are 259,212 signatures for initiated constitutional amendments and 172,808 for initiated state statutes.

Q&A with Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett

Ken Bennett has been the Arizona Secretary of State since 2009 when he was appointed to the position by exiting-Secretary of State Jan Brewer, who was ascending to the office of governor at the time. As the highest election official in the state, Bennett has had plenty of first-hand experience with the initiative and referendum process in Arizona. Ballotpedia reached out to Bennett for a brief question and answer session, where Bennett gave his opinions on direct democracy in the state:

1. What are your personal feelings towards the initiative and referendum process?

Initiative is one of the most powerful reform tools in politics because it gives the people the ability to make informed decisions to directly change the powers and priorities of their government. It gives people the power to directly decide on ideas that have strong public support, yet have not been acted on by government.

2. What do you feel can change in the state's initiative and referendum process to improve it?

Arizona has one of the strongest traditions of initiative. I would be hesitant to change the process.

3. What is the process of verifying signatures? Who qualifies to verify signatures in your state?

County Recorders verify signatures in Arizona. Our office has a limited role in that process.

4. Do you see an increase or decrease in proposals moving forward to 2014?

Initiatives are largely dependent on the political landscape so I couldn't say whether an increase is likely or not.

5. What is the most controversial citizen initiative that you have come across, in your opinion?

Initiatives that deal with highly charged political issues like immigration, taxation or education generate a lot of controversy and create a robust debate in Arizona.

6. Can you give a few words on Arizona's 100th anniversary of the initiative and referendum process?

Government is truly the voice of the people, and for 100 years Arizonans have enjoyed more power and control in the way their state government functions than many other states. It is essential to our democracy that we have high levels of participation and that the citizenry have a voice in how things are done. The initiative process increases participation and the strength of that voice.

See also

Ballotpedia News


  1. 1.0 1.1 Veto referendums were not included in these statistics.
  2. Initiative & Referendum Institute, "Data," accessed February 10, 2012