What Now: A look inside petition verification By: Cathy Sigmon

So many of you have contacted us with concerns about what’s happening at the Secretary of State’s office. Michele Reagan’s office continues screening the 111,540 signatures we turned in on Tuesday, but they also continue changing the rules from minute to minute. We were told all along this would happen behind closed doors, with nobody able to observe, not even our lawyer. At 11 PM on the night before we turned in your signatures, we received word that, for the first time ever, outside observers would be allowed in. This unprecedented change is not only slowing things down, but also giving dark money groups the opportunity to intimidate state workers and make objections on the taxpayer’s dime. We are doing our very best in this David & Goliath scenario to protect the integrity of every volunteer’s efforts and every signer’s right to be counted. We’re learning as we go, and working hard to keep our volunteers informed.

The enemies of education are here in force. The building is crawling with paid lobbyists from the American Federation for Children (Betsy DeVos) and Americans for Prosperity (the Koch Brothers). Republican Party elections lawyer Tim La Sota is hovering over state employees and Save Our Schools volunteers alike. The lobby is also full of AFP and AFC insiders, many of whom I recognize from the Capitol.

The signature sheets have been run through a high-powered scanner. A computer is flagging obvious errors (such as a signature line with no address). A human reviews each page after scanning; observers on both sides can write down objections. Talk about stressful, both for us, AND for the temp workers who were given only a brief training before this critical task. And still, I can’t describe my emotions when the names of so many people I know flash by on the screen — Mario, Allegra, Jessica, Amanda, Dawn, Mitzi, Mike — not to mention my own name.

Our volunteers are wonderful! They’re dropping everything to show up, and are doing an amazing job of stepping in whenever and wherever needed. We’re so sorry to be giving out conflicting and changing information, but in fact, information is changing on us literally by the moment. We are adapting and our volunteers are being incredibly adaptable and flexible under these circumstances. With shifting sands beneath them, they are flexible and gracious with their aid. We are so glad to have them.

Our attorneys have been present and are giving us excellent advice. Oh, and we will need your help paying their bill. The other side has a bottomless pit of money. We have the amazing volunteer network of the citizens of Arizona. We know that we’re responsible for making sure every one of your voices is heard and that your signatures count. Democracy is not always pretty!

I am a retired business person and part-time picture framer. I did not expect this to be the way I spent my retirement. I expected to be traveling and enjoying my children, not sweating in front of the Tempe Public Library and notarizing hundreds of your petitions. But I was educated in public schools, as were my children. I didn’t realize our schools were under existential threat until the 2017 session of the Arizona Legislature. I was horrified to learn that education was being privatized, commercialized and corrupted right under my nose. In spite of it all, I’m incredibly thrilled and honored to be one of those leading this charge in defense of public education. I am up for this fight, and honor each and every one of you.