On Monday, opponents of an Arizona ballot initiative that would bar public institutions from adopting affirmative action policies filed what observers believe will be a successful lawsuit to block the measure from reaching the ballot this fall.
They are accusing paid signature gatherers of submitting over 100,000 fraudulent or suspicious signatures to Arizona's secretary of state in order to meet hurdles for qualifying the citizen-sponsored initiative -- one of several such state-by-state efforts promoted across the country this year by conservative activist and longtime affirmative action foe Ward Connerly.
State Representative Kyrsten Sinema organized a cadre of 1,000 volunteers who worked around the clock at a local union hall for 18 days in order to eyeball 325,000 signatures turned in by Connerly's Arizona allies. Perhaps the most interesting signature they found was from one "Momar Kadafie" -- a variant on Libyan leader Muammar Qaddaffi's name. (See the signature page here.) Arizona's anti-affirmative action "Kadafie" listed his country as "Saudie Arabia" and his hometown as "Tebet," alongside an Arizona zip code of 85007. That signature on a campaign circular came right after others from Jimmy Carter and "Jerry" Ford, representing quite the pow-wow of world leaders (both living and dead). Another page featured John Hancocks from John and Robert Kennedy.
"The questionable and misleading signature-gathering tactics brought into Arizona by Connerly have had a far-reaching impact on the ballot process generally in our state, and a number of propositions have been tossed," Sinema said in a statement that announced Monday's lawsuit. In another conversation with the Huffington Post, the Arizona Democrat (who is also a lawyer and professor of social work) said that the very idea of Connerly using out-of-state money to bring his pet obsession into her backyard "kind of pissed me off, I'll be honest."
Noting that Arizona has a different higher education environment than California -- where Connerly posted his first big anti-affirmative action victory in 1996 with the infamous Proposition 209 -- Sinema says the impact of the measure would be disastrous. "Unlike in California, Arizona does not have a robust private university system," she said, noting that such schools can disregard Connerly's ballot initiatives since they are not run by the state. "Almost all of our schools are state schools. So we wouldn't have had the ability to find [alternate] scholarships or opportunities for minority students."
On the procedural front, Sinema says her group's effort to cast doubt on over 100,000 signatures proceeds on a separate track from the county by county check of whether the signatories are actually registered voters. When taken together, Sinema says "I'm sure the measure is going to be de-certified."
The ballot measure's fate now rests with Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer, who has already tossed three other initiatives from the ballot this year on procedural grounds. She could issue a ruling as early as Tuesday or Wednesday.
Connerly calls Sinema's efforts the "same old" kind of opposition he's faced in other states in the past, but does concede that the scale of her effort is "unprecedented" in his experience. "The strategy of the those who oppose is to keep us off the ballot," Connerly told the Huffington Post. Indeed, when Connerly's initiatives do make a state ballot, they tend to prevail, sometimes by large margins. He said he is optimistic that his measures will appear on ballots in Nebraska and Colorado this fall.
The activist concedes, however, that "there may be trouble in Arizona," but adds that there is "built-in fraud" in the initiative process. In a counter-claim of fraud, Connerly says his Arizona allies were approached by moles from a group called By Any Means Necessary who he says attempted to sabotage their campaign by offering sheet after sheet of "obviously fraudulent" signatures. Responding to claim by Sinema that some initiative pages appeared to indicate that a group of signature gatherers had simply passed their sheets around in a circle, signing each one, Connerly mused that perhaps "they knew exactly what they were looking for" and had infiltrated his crew.
Connerly also defended other honest paid signature gatherers, citing their hot working conditions and their inability to challenge potentially fraudulent petition signers. "Jimmy Carter is a common name," Connerly said. "What are they gonna do, say 'I don't believe you'"? Still, Connerly admitted that Muammar Qaddafi is "a little less common," before adding that his allies are the ones who are ultimately harmed by any funny business. "We're the ones that are defrauded," he said. "We have to pay for any crap that's turned into us. It wouldn't surprise me at all if some signature gatherers tried to sneak some names by us."
A call to the National Ballot Access company, which collected signatures for Connerly's allies in Arizona, was not returned.