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Opponents of new election law say they have signatures to force statewide vote

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PHOENIX – Voter-advocacy groups seeking a referendum to overturn a sweeping new state election law delivered more than 146,000 petition signatures Wednesday to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Needing 86,405 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, leaders said they had more than enough to put the issue to voters in November 2014.

One provision of HB 2305 allows county recorders to remove people from permanent early voting lists if they don’t vote in both primary and general elections for two consecutive cycles.

Others will increase the number of signatures needed for third-party candidates to qualify for the ballot, limit who can transport an early voter’s ballot to a polling place and tightens controls on efforts to get citizen initiatives on the ballot.

Supporters said the changes reduce the chances of voter fraud and help officials better manage elections. But leaders of the Protect Your Right to Vote Committee, a broad coalition pushing for the referendum, contend the law will disenfranchise many voters and harm third-party candidates.

“It’s not every day voters get to refer a bad piece of legislation to the ballot,” said Julie Erfle, the committee’s chairwoman.

At a news conference, Erfle said organizers succeeded despite the summer heat and opponents creating two political action committees to oppose their efforts.

“Voters from across the state and voters from across the political spectrum were eager to stand in line and to put their names on these petitions,” she said.

Sam Wercinski, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network, called the law’s provision allowing county recorders to cull permanent early voter lists a direct attack on the more than 1 million registered independent voters. He said that 12 percent of registered independents voted in the 2010 primary.

“That would leave approximately 880,000 potential PEVL independent registered voters being scrubbed from the list,” he said.

By requiring third-party candidates to get signatures from the same percentage of all registered voters as major party candidates, the law significantly increases the signatures needed for Libertarians, Greens and others to qualify for the ballot while lowering signature requirements for Republicans and Democrats.

Barry Hess, co-chairman of Arizona’s Libertarian Party, said every idea deserves to be heard.

“Evidently Republican leadership knows they can’t compete in the marketplace of ideas, so they resort to cheating,” Hess said. “Did they really think their attempts to hijack Arizona’s elections by controlling who would be on the ballot to represent Arizona would be unnoticed?”

Barrett Marson, spokesman for Stop Voter Fraud and Protect Our Secret Ballot, political action committees supporting the changes, said the law doesn’t disenfranchise any voter and in fact makes it easier for people to vote.

“This law lets people who vote in person avoid voting a provisional ballot,” he said. “Also, it’s easier for Libertarians and other minor parties to enter a congressional race than it is for high school students to enter a race for class president. And it shouldn’t be that way. This law levels the playing field for all candidates.”