Pederson v. Bennett

Center Attorneys, Tim Hogan and Joy Herr-Cardillo, as well as several other Arizona attorneys, have teamed up with Center Board Member (and former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice) Stanley Feldman to bring a mandamus action against Secretary of State Ken Bennett after he refused to complete the validation process for the Quality Education and Jobs Citizens’ Initiative petitions that contained 290,849 signatures –the most ever collected in the state's history for a citizens' statutory initiative.

Bennett rejected the petitions because of a minor mix up in the paperwork that was filed with the Secretary of State back when the initiative petitions were first registered.  At the time it submitted the original application to circulate the initiative, the initiative’s organizing committee inadvertently submitted a paper copy of the measure that was an earlier draft version of the initiative text.  The Committee also submitted an electronic version of the initiative that was the correct, final version, and all of the petitions that were circulated and signed by the voters contained the final version of the measure.  Seizing on this minor discrepancy between the paper and electronic copies, Bennett has claimed that the initiative proponents failed to comply with the Arizona statute regarding initiatives.  The initiative proponents, however, dispute that contention.  But even if he is correct, Arizona law only requires “substantial compliance” in the case of initiatives, and that standard is easily met here.    

Moreover, the statute that Bennett relies on cannot “trump” the Arizona Constitution, which expressly requires the Secretary of State to place a measure on the ballot when citizens comply with the requirements spelled out in that document.  The Constitution simply requires that : 1) the initiative is addressed to the Secretary of State; 2) petition signers have confirmed that they are a qualified electors and have included their address and date of signature; 3) each petition is attached to a full and correct copy of the title and text of the initiative; and 4) petition circulators have verified under oath that they witnessed each individual sign the petition.  Thus, the campaign fully complied with all of the constitutional requirements.

Because it is an election matter, the case is being heard on an expedited basis.  A hearing on the matter was held on  July 18, 2012 at 9:30 before Maricopa County Presiding Civil Judge Robert Oberbillig who ruled from the bench in the plaintiffs' favor. (A copy of the minute entry order is attached below.)  The judge agreed with the plaintiffs that they had satisfied all of the constitutional requirements to qualify for the ballot. The Secretary of State has not yet indicated whether he intends to appeal the decision.   If you would like to learn more about the initiative itself, you can read about it here.


Photo courtesy of Quality Education and Jobs Committee 

PreviewLegal DocumentsSize
2012 07 06 Memo in support of mandamus.pdf247.37 KB
2012 07 18 Minute Entry.pdf86.51 KB

Case Updates

Arizona Supreme Court affirms ruling re Quality Education and Jobs Initiative

On August 14, 2012, the Arizona Supreme  Court issued a brief order affirming the lower court decision ordering the Secretary of State to place the Quality Education and Jobs initiative on the ballot.  The Court will issue a full opinion at a later date, but in the order indicated that intiative proponents had substantially complied with the statutory requirements, as Arizona law requires. 

Judge Rules in Favor of Plaintiffs on Education Initiative; Overturns Bennett's Petition Rejection

Following a hearing lasting approximately 20 minutes, Maricopa County Superior Court judge Robert Oberbillig today held that Secretary of State Ken Bennett's decision to reject 290,849 petition signatures to place the Quality Education and Jobs citizens' initiative on the November ballot was unconstitutional.

"I honestly don't know why we need to be here," said Judge Robert Oberbillig during the proceedings.

The case centered on whether the Quality Education and Jobs volunteer-led committee complied with the state Constitution and state law in submitting a record number of petition signatures to the Secretary of State's Office. Bennett rejected the 290,849 signatures on June 25, after making a unilateral decision that a clerical error on a paper document filed with his office invalidated the signatures. Even though his office had accepted an electronic filing with ballot language that matched the language attached to each of the 19,071 petitions submitted, Bennett determined that the electronic filing was not "official."

The campaign legal team, headed by former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Stanley Feldman, successfully argued that Bennett's decision was not constitutional. The Arizona Constitution requires the Secretary of State to place a measure on the ballot if supporters meet four requirements, all of which were met in this case.