A group opposed to a Tom-Steyer led ballot question in Arizona that would significantly increase the state's renewable energy portfolio filed a lawsuit on Thursday claiming most of the signatures submitted on behalf of the push aren’t valid.
Arizonans for Affordable Electricity (AFAE) said in a press release that petition supporters "did not gather the 225,963 valid signatures required in order to qualify." The group is therefore asking the judge to enjoin the initiative from being placed on the ballot.
Clean Energy for a Health Arizona (CEHA) turned in just over 480,000 signatures earlier in the month. California billionaire and political activist Tom Steyer has underwritten CEHA's efforts. He is best known for his "Need to Impeach" campaign against President Trump, but also has a longer political history of financing energy and environment related efforts at the state level.
If the CEHA question makes the ballot, it will ask Arizona voters to increase the mandate on the state's renewable energy portfolio from 12 percent in 2020 to 50 percent by 2030.
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AFAE claims that after a weeks-long review of the petitions submitted to the secretary of state’s office, "195,339 of these signatures were from individuals not registered to vote in Arizona and, therefore, ineligible to sign the initiative petition," and claimed another 74,227 signatures were included on improperly or non-notarized petitions.
Along with several other thousand signatures they believe are invalid, AFAE claims that only about 106,00 signatures turned in pass muster, "a validity rate of approximately 22 percent."
CEHA director Rodd McCleod rejected the charges, linking the lawsuit to Arizona Public Service, the state's largest utility who is sponsoring AFAE's work against the imitative.
"APS has already spent 10 million dollars of their customers' money trying to deny Arizonans a choice about our future," McCleod said in an email to the Washington Free Beacon. "How much deeper will they reach into their customers' pockets to pay their corporate lawyers to file delusional lawsuits?"
The latest campaign finance filings in Arizona show Steyer's PAC, NextGen America, has spent about $4.4 million on the petitions, while APS has contributed about $7.5 million in opposition, according to the Arizona Daily Star.
In the weeks since AFAE has been reviewing signatures, the group's director Matt Benson had been tweeting out pictures of some of the petition sheets showing what he claimed were signatures with obvious accuracy or authenticity problems.
— Matthew Benson (@MatthewWBenson) July 12, 2018
"Based on the blatant fraud and obvious defects found among these signature petitions, it is evident the initiative campaign made a calculated decision to submit everything in hoping it would overwhelm any review process," Benson said in the press release. "Requirements governing the initiative petition process and lawful signatures must be more than just words on paper. Our Arizona Constitution is too important to ignore fraud and abuse this blatant."
AFAE previously claimed that the petition effort used felons to do signature-gathering work, which may have been in violation of Arizona law that requires signature gatherers be eligible to vote. AFAE said it had not seen proof that all of the circulators had their civil rights restored from the state in which they were tried.