Republicans aim to limit future ballot initiatives like the Arizona Abortion Access Act

Arizona protestors calling for abortion rights

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - APRIL 17: Members of Arizona for Abortion Access, the ballot initiative to enshrine abortion rights in the Arizona State Constitution, hold a press conference and protest condemning Arizona House Republicans and the 1864 abortion ban during a recess from a legislative session at the Arizona House of Representatives on April 17, 2024 in Phoenix. (Photo by Rebecca Noble/Getty Images)

By Robert Gundran

May 21, 2024

SCR 1015 would significantly curb Arizonans’ power to initiate ballot measures.

Arizona voters will likely have the chance to vote on abortion rights this November thanks to a citizen-led ballot initiative. Meanwhile, the Republican-majority Legislature is asking voters to weigh in on another measure that would make direct democracy like this extremely difficult in the future.

The Arizona Abortion Access Act would enshrine abortion up to fetal viability, or about 24 weeks of pregnancy, as a constitutional right. If the initiative reaches the needed amount of signatures by July 3, voters will get to pass it by simple majority.

Right now, citizen-led ballot initiatives need a number of valid signatures equal to 10% of all votes cast in the most recent governor’s race to get it on the ballot, and 15% for constitutional changes. For example, the Arizona Abortion Access Act needs about 384,000 valid signatures to get on the 2024 ballot—15% of the 2,559,485 total votes cast, because it’s a constitutional amendment.

If passed, the Republicans’ SCR 1015 would amend the state constitution to change this requirement. Citizen-led ballot initiatives would need the number of valid signatures equal to 10% or 15% of votes cast in the most recent governor’s race in all 30 legislative districts across the state.

This means that even if there are enough valid signatures in 29 districts, if just one misses the mark, that initiative wouldn’t make it on the ballot—even if the total number of signatures met the threshold statewide.

READ MORE: This Tempe woman is fighting to get abortion on the ballot this year

One of the current ways opponents to a ballot measure aim to make it fail before it reaches the ballot is through challenging signatures as invalid. If voters pass SCR 1015, opponents to a measure wouldn’t need to successfully challenge tens of thousands of signatures—they would just have to successfully challenge enough in one legislative district.

A power struggle

The Arizona Legislature can put any initiative on the ballot by a simple majority vote in both chambers. SCR 1015 would allow legislators to maintain this power while making it more difficult for citizens to direct what should go on the ballot.

In 1998, Arizona voters tried to protect citizen-led ballot initiatives by passing a ballot measure that prohibited the Legislature from amending or repealing voter-approved ballot initiatives and referendums unless the three-fourths of the Legislature votes to do so.

Republicans have pushed back by spearheading other restrictions on citizen initiatives in Arizona, including ones that allow courts to disqualify signatures for minor technical defects, disallow campaigns from paying petition circulators on a per-signature basis, and require judges to disqualify signatures collected by a petitioner who failed to appear in court if subpoenaed during a challenge.

Through citizen-led initiatives, voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2020 and increased the minimum wage in 2016—two things the Republican-majority Legislature chose not to do themselves.

Arizonans have the power to initiate ballot measures—something residents of only 26 states can do—and SCR 1015 would significantly curb that power.


  • Robert Gundran

    Robert Gundran grew up in the Southwest, spending equal time in the Valley and Southern California throughout his life. He graduated from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in 2018 and wrote for The Arizona Republic and The Orange County Register.



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