Mussi v. Hobbs – 7/24/2023

September 29, 2023

Arizona Supreme Court holds that a party challenging a ballot initiative can challenge the number of signatures using both an “actual count” method and a “projected count” method, even if that results in double-counting of disqualified signatures.

A ballot initiative opponent filed a lawsuit against the state Secretary of State, arguing that the political action committee supporting the ballot initiative did not obtain the requisite number of signatures for the measure to qualify for the ballot.  The trial court started with the total number of signatures obtained, and then subtracted signatures from two categories.  First, it subtracted signatures that the parties stipulated were invalid under the legal requirements for signatures (“actual count”).  Then, it also calculated an “invalidity rate” based on a random sampling from the county recorder’s numbers, and applied that rate to subtract an additional number of signatures (“projected count” method).  After subtracting signatures from both categories, the trial court held that the ballot initiative did not qualify.  The Secretary and committee appealed that decision to the Arizona Supreme Court, arguing that the trial court incorrectly subtracted signatures from both categories.

The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the trial court, holding that subtracting signatures using both methods complied with the underlying statutes.  The court reasoned that the statutes governing ballot initiatives did not expressly require a challenger to elect one method over another, and so it declined to read one into the law.  The court acknowledged that this method of determining the invalid signatures “seems to permit ‘double counting’ or invalid signatures,” however, the court reasoned that “such deduction appears clearly mandated by statute.” 

Justice Montgomery authored the opinion for the court; Justice Timmer filed an opinion dissenting in part.

Disclosure: Osborn Maledon attorneys participated in this case.

Posted by: John Bullock