By Nick Worth
A legal battle to block the “Top Two” amendment initiative to the Arizona State Constitution from the No-vember ballot was dealt a deathblow when the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the decision of the original trial court.
The groups, known as “Save Our Vote, Opposing c-03-2012,” and “Safeguard Arizona’s Future,” and Lisa Gray, (in court documents known collectively as SOV) are opposing the “Top Two” amendment.
The initiative seeks to amend Article 7 of the state constitution to create a single open “Top Two” primary election, followed by a general election between the two candidates who received the highest vote totals for each office. This would have the effect of the “Top Two” system replacing Arizona’s current partisan primary and general elections, beginning in January 2014.
The SOV group was contesting petition circulator affidavits on some initiative petition sheets circulated by the “Open Government Committee Supporting c-03-2012 (the “Committee”), the group sponsoring the initia-tive.
According to the court documents, after the Secretary of State’s initial culling of initiative petition sheets, SOV discovered possible defects in some of the affidavits and filed for an injunction to keep the initiative off the ballot
During a four-hour hearing on Aug. 30 before Judge John Rea in Maricopa County Superior Court, SOV called three witnesses and introduced some of the petitions it hoped to have entered into evidence. The group then ended its testimony 10 minutes short of its two-hour time limit.
The Committee then presented its case and stopped well before its two-hour limit was up.
According to court records, at that time SOV asked if it could admit some more exhibits and Rae ruled it would be allowed only if the exhibits were in rebuttal to the Committee’s case, but not if they were something new that was beyond the scope of rebuttal. The SOV group then stated there was no need for rebuttal and made closing arguments.
The following day Judge Rae ruled that even though SOV had proved 2,056 signatures should be removed from the petitions for fatally flawed affidavits, that still left the Committee with 4,316 more valid signatures than were required. The court then dismissed SOV’s complaint.
SOV appealed the ruling saying the trial court abused its discretion by:
* Requiring the group to introduce signature sheets individually by circulator, rather than admitting four boxes containing approximately 6,000 signature sheets en masse.
* Allowing SOV only two hours in which to present its evidence and not granting its request for additional time.
* Dismissing the complaint while a companion case was subject to appeal.
In their opinion, the Arizona Supreme Court Justices ruled the lower court had acted appropriately in all the matters and upheld its decision.
“In summary, the top-two primary initiative will remain on the ballot for the general election,” the Supreme Court decision noted.
By Nick Worth