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PHOENIX -- Elections are about to get easier for major party candidates -- especially those who have access to big-dollar donors.

And voters who want to craft their own laws will find new hurdles, as Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday signed three measures approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature, including:

- Sharply boosting the number of signatures minor-party candidates would need to qualify for the ballot;

- Allowing candidates to accept up to $5,000 from any one source, a 25 percent increase since the last election;

- Requiring judges to throw out citizen-sponsored initiative, referendum and recall petitions if there are technical flaws in the paperwork.

It is the measure on petition signatures, though, that could have the biggest impact.

Existing law says the number of signers needed is based on the number of people registered for the party. Now, it will be based on all those who are eligible to sign the petition.

That is significant because independents can sign nominating petitions of any candidate. And there are far more independents than either Republicans or Democrats.

But lawmakers first changed the formula to ensure that there is no major change for candidates of either of the two major parties. For example, a Republican seeking statewide office would need 5,707 signatures, up from 5,570.

But for minor parties, the difference is significant. A Libertarian contender for statewide office would now need 2,987 signatures, compared with just 139 now.

Supporters of the measure, all Republicans, contend there is no reason a minor party candidate with just a handful of signatures should be able to complete head-to-head with a major party contender. In legislative races, for example, it might require just a dozen signatures -- or less -- to get on the ballot.

But Republican proponents have made no secret of the fact that, if at all possible, they don't want Libertarians in the races. The reason is simple: They contend a vote for a Libertarian is a vote that would otherwise go to a Republican.

Republicans see the issue through the lens of the 2012 congressional election.

Republican Jonathan Paton lost to Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick by 9,180 votes. But Libertarian Kim Allen picked up 15,227 votes -- votes that Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, contended during a debate last year likely would have gone to Paton.

Similarly, in CD 9, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema bested Republican Vernon Parker by 10,251 votes, with Libertarian Powell Gammill tallying 16,620.

But Barry Hess, who has been the Libertarian gubernatorial candidate for several elections, scoffs at that contention. He said people who vote Libertarian tend to be suspicious of both major parties.

The measure on campaign donations also was approved largely along party lines in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

It's not just the $1,000 per donor that makes the measure stand out. It's that it comes on top of a much larger increase just two years earlier.

Prior to 2012, the maximum donation any legislative candidate could accept from any one source was just $440. And statewide candidates could take no more than $912.

Both were increased for the 2014 election to $4,000. Now, with Ducey's signature, donors who can afford to do so can write out checks for up to $5,000.

The new law on ballot measures requires "strict compliance'' with every election regulation before a question can go to voters. By contrast, judges have concluded that petition drives need only "substantial compliance'' with the rules.

That difference is significant.

For example, in 2008 courts allowed voters to consider a measure to prohibit the state from imposing universal health care even though 22 names in question had either the wrong date or an incomplete date on which each person signed the petitions. In that case, the judge said the evidence -- including the dates on adjacent signatures -- proved the petitions were signed on a certain date.

And a 2012 measure to extend the temporary one-cent sales tax went to voters even though petition organizers filed different electronic and printed versions with the Secretary of State's Office.

Follow Howard Fischer on Twitter at @azcapmedia.


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