By Terri Jo Neff
The failure of the Patriot Party of Arizona to properly circulate petitions in its effort to recall House Speaker Rusty Bowers is the latest example of how difficult it can be for the average citizen to comply with confusing laws written by legislators to protect themselves from recalls.
On Thursday, the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office (SOS) announced it would not count any of the estimated 24,500 signatures contained on 2,040 recall petitions submitted by the Patriot Party of Arizona. The reason given by the SOS is that the petitions sheets were not attached to a “time-and-date marked copy” of the recall application.
A recall petition states the reason a recall election is being sought against a current elected official. It also includes room for several registered voters within the jurisdiction of the elected official to affix their name, address, and signature.
The number of signatures needed to get a recall election on the ballot is determined by state statute; for Bowers’ recall organizers it was 22,311. But before any signatures can be gathered someone had to apply for a recall serial number by which all paperwork will be filed and tracked.
It is two other recall statutes which have tripped up at least two other recall efforts in recent years due to the fact the two statutes have to “taken together,” the Arizona Supreme Court ruled in 2019. Such an interpretation requires a “time-and-date marked copy” of the recall application with the official serial number to be “attached” to each petition sheet.
The Patriot Party of Arizona declined to comment on the SOS’s determination about the non-attached applications.
Bowers attracted the wrath of the Republican-spinoff group by not supporting 2020 election fraud claims and not pushing back against Gov. Doug Ducey’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Public support for the recall effort came from well-known pro-Trump names, including attorney Sidney Powell, America Restored executive director Tomi Collins, and My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell.
For his part, Bowers (R-LD25) publicly stated this week he expected to stand later this year for a recall election. “I was gearing up to go through a recall,” he said.
The non-compliance by the Patriot Party of Arizona is somewhat similar to the situation Tanya Duarte found herself in when trying to recall then-Mayor Robert Uribe of Douglas in 2019. Duarte applied for a recall number and made dozens of copies of the time-date copy of the application, which were placed behind each petition on a clipboard.
This made the application readily available for anyone to read, Duarte later testified. The Douglas city clerk initially certified 668 petition signatures, more than enough to force Uribe to stand for election 10 months before the end of his term.
But Uribe’s wife -as a Douglas voter- challenged all of the signatures due to the lack of applications attached to the petitions.
Judge David Thorn of the Cochise County Superior Court heard the case and noted that lawmakers failed to include a description in the recall statutes for how the application copy is to be attached to the petition. He even pulled out an ordinary dictionary to review definitions of the word attached.
In the end Thorn ruled the common language definition requires the application copy to be affixed or adhered to the petition whether “it be tape, staple, glue” or some other manner to ensure the two documents are not easily separated.
Thorn also commented that the Legislature “gets to make laws, to make it more exacting” for average citizens to recall public officials.
The Arizona Supreme Court also tackled the recall process in 2019 after the Urban Phoenix Project political action committee (Committee) ran into the “attached” issue during its attempt to recall then-City Councilman Michael Nowakowski in 2018.
The group submitted petitions containing more than 2,300 signatures from which the city clerk deemed enough were valid to make Nowakowski stand for election again. But a voter of Nowakowski’s district challenged the city clerk’s decision, arguing in part that a copy of the application was not attached to any of the petitions.
A Maricopa County judge ruled the City Clerk should not have counted any of the petitions due to missing copies of the application. The case went to the Arizona Supreme Court where then-Chief Justice Scott Bales authored a unanimous opinion which acknowledged the effort it takes to collect so many signatures.
The opinion also noted the recall statutes can be confusing for most citizens. But the two separate statutes related to circulating petitions have to be read together in order for any signatures to be valid, Bales wrote.
“The time-and-date-marked copy of the application –unlike the petition sheets– both identifies the applicant (including any organization, certain officers, and contact information) and reflects that the application has in fact been filed. Requiring the attachment of a such a copy also helps ensure that signatures are not obtained before the application is filed,” consistent with state law, he wrote.
“Our state constitution guarantees voters the right to recall elected officers for whatever reasons they choose…That right, however, must be exercised pursuant to constitutional and statutory provisions,” Bales added.