Arizona voters to decide single-subject rule amendment for citizen-initiated ballot measures

At the 2022 general election, Arizona voters will decide a constitutional amendment to require that citizen-initiated ballot measures embrace a single subject. The ballot measure would also require the initiative’s subject to be expressed in the ballot title, or else the missing subject would be considered void. 

Known as the single-subject rule, 16 states (of 26 with an initiative or veto referendum process) require that ballot initiatives address a single subject. Courts are often responsible for determining whether an initiative meets a single-subject rule if someone contests the initiative as violating the rule. 

The single-subject issue came up in a 2017 court case in which the Arizona Supreme Court unanimously ruled that there was no single-subject rule for ballot initiatives. The case involved voter-approved Proposition 206, which enacted statutes related to minimum wage and paid sick time. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry argued that the initiative was two subjects in violation of a provision in the state constitution (Section 13 of Article 4) requiring that “every act shall embrace but one subject and matters properly connected therewith.” The Arizona Supreme Court held that the single-subject rule found in Section 13 of Article 4 applied to bills passed by the legislature but not citizen-initiated statutes.

State Rep. John Kavanagh (R-23) introduced the constitutional amendment into the Arizona State Legislature. He said, “It’s unfair to the people who you ask to vote to have more than one subject matter.” Joel Edman, director of the Arizona Advocacy Network, criticized the proposal, saying, “The trick is that what qualifies as a single subject is in the eye of the beholder.”

On March 4, 2021, the Arizona House of Representatives voted 31-28 to pass the constitutional amendment. On June 29, 2021, the Arizona State Senate voted 16-14 to approve the proposal. In both chambers, votes were along party lines, with Republicans voting to send the amendment to the ballot and Democrats voting against it. Since Republicans hold a one-member majority in each chamber, the amendment passed by the minimum number of required votes in the House and Senate.

The amendment is the second put on the 2022 Arizona ballot related to ballot initiative procedures. On June 25, the legislature referred an amendment to change the state’s laws on legislative alteration. It would allow the legislature to amend or repeal voter-approved ballot initiatives if any portion has been declared unconstitutional or illegal by the Arizona Supreme Court or U.S. Supreme Court.

The legislature can refer additional measures during the remainder of this year’s legislative session and the 2022 legislative session. Arizonans also have the power to initiate legislation as either a state statute or a constitutional amendment or repeal legislation via veto referendum. Signatures for 2022 ballot initiatives are due July 8, 2022.

Additional reading: