AZ Appeals Court Finds Genuine Issue of Material Fact Existed as to Validity of 93 Signatures on Referendum Petition

This post was authored by Matthew Loescher, Esq.

Electors filed a complaint for injunctive relief against community organizations and various county officials challenging the validity of community organizations’ referendum petition, which sought to include ballot question as to whether a portion of land should have been rezoned for the purpose of establishing a medical marijuana cultivation facility , as approved by the county board of supervisors. Following a bench trial and supplemental motion for summary judgment, the Superior Court, Graham County, denied electors’ request for injunctive relief.

On appeal, Jones first argued the trial court ruled in dismissing his challenge to the text of the referendum petition. Specifically, he claimed that Respect the Will of the People (“RWP“)’s petition did not comply with § 19-101(A)’s “straightforward directive to identify” the county measure at issue and the title of the measure being referred, rather than its entire text. The court declined to hold that the presence of any surplus information on a referendum petition automatically negates strict compliance under § 19-101(A). While the petition included the title of the rezoning request twice, as well as the entire proposal, this additional information did not alter the meaning and “does not justify depriving Graham County voters of their opportunity to be heard. Additionally, although the petition lacked the phrase “county measure,” it was clearly based on the remainder of the petition that what was at issue due to the address of the property and the involvement of the Graham County Board of Supervisors. Accordingly, the court held that the form of a referendum petition must strictly comply with § 19-101(A) and that RWP complied with the same.

Jones next argued that the trial court erred in granting a post-trial judgment for RWP on the signature challenge. The first issue of which concerned ninety-three signatures with an address on the referendum petition that did not match the signer’s address in the voter registration records. The trial court determined that Jones had failed to meet his initial burden because the signers listed an address that was presumably their “current residence address,” regardless of what address they had previously used when registering to vote. The second and third issues concerned seven duplicate signatures that were collected by Leonard and a separate circulator. These signatures were part of the ten signatures the trial court had disqualified under the initial motion for summary judgment. RWP maintained that since the court had invalidated the signatures on the Leonard petitions, the duplicate signatures, collected by a different circulator, should not be disqualified. The trial court agreed with RWP, finding that there was no legal basis for disqualifying the seven signatures after the Leonard petitions had been disqualified. Moreover, as Jones was afforded an opportunity to respond to RWP’s argument through his reply in support of his supplemental motion for summary judgment, the court declined to deem this argument waived. Based on the aforementioned, the court affirmed the trial court’s denial of Jones’s request for injunctive relief, and permitted the referendum petition REF-02-2021 to be placed on the November 2022 ballot.

Jones v Respect the Will of the People, 517 P.3d 1188 (AZ App. 8/25/2022)