By Corinne Murdock |
In a sudden email late Wednesday night, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ office informed candidates that their signature-gathering system, E-Qual, would be suspended once the Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) certifies the 2022 maps. Until the system reflects the 2022 maps, candidates may only collect signatures based on 2020 maps — meaning any 2022 district signatures may be invalid. The secretary of state anticipates that by March 5, E-Qual will be unavailable entirely to allow counties to update their data.
“To allow counties to import updated files into the system, E-Qual will be suspended for all Legislative and Congressional candidates at that time and will likely remain unavailable through the remainder of the filing period,” warned the secretary of state’s office.
E-Qual allows candidates to more easily gather signatures to qualify for the ballot, allowing voters to sign for a candidate wherever they can access the internet.
Arizona Free Enterprise Club President Scot Mussi told AZ Free News that this was a failure on the secretary of state’s part.
“They had months to prepare for the district changes,” said Mussi. “Maybe if they had spent less time rewriting state law through the election manual they would’ve been more prepared.”
AZ Free News inquired with the secretary of state’s office why they hadn’t adjusted their system operations accordingly in anticipation of the 2022 redistricting. We also inquired how Hobbs believed this action impacted her recent initiative to ensure trust in election officials. Hobbs partnered with the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) to ensure voters get “timely, accurate information” about elections.
The secretary of state’s office didn’t respond to AZ Free News by press time. However, spokesperson Murphy Hebert told the Arizona Mirror that their office wasn’t unprepared: rather, their office made the decision to suspend the system because of the new district maps, and pointed out December guidance sent to candidates advising them to not update their profiles to reflect the new districts in E-Qual.
“The notion that this is happening late in the game is a bit disingenuous. From day one, the office has always been responsive to feedback. Based on the feedback we received, we made the decision to update the plan,” said Hebert. “We’re trying to implement the best approach that gives both candidates and voters access, with the alternative being the system going offline entirely.”
According to the late-night notification email to candidates written by Elections Filing Manager Joshua Doty, legislative and congressional candidates won’t be able to collect signatures from voters once counties begin implementing the 2022 maps in the system. Doty blamed redistricting on the system shutdown; he advised candidates they could use paper petitions to collect signatures in the meantime, and that they should consult their campaign or legal counsel for further advice.
“Because redistricting remains in progress, Legislative and Congressional candidates are currently only able to use E-Qual to collect signatures from voters in the candidate’s 2020 district. After the [IRC] certifies the 2022 maps, counties will begin working toward implementing the 2022 maps into the statewide voter registration system. To allow counties to import updated files into the system, E-Qual will be suspended for all legislative and congressional candidates at that time and will likely remain unavailable through the remainder of the filing period,” wrote Doty. “Each candidate should consult their campaign or legal counsel to determine the best option for their situation.”
Doty further warned that those who wish to continue collecting signatures from their 2020 district shouldn’t designate their 2022 district on their campaign profile. Those who wish to update their district should resign to the fact that they’ll have to collect paper petitions for both their 2020 and 2022 districts.
“If you designate a 2022 district, then you will not have access to the E-Qual system until the 2022 maps have been imported into the statewide voter registration database, which likely will not happen before the close of the candidate filing period on April 4,” stated Doty. “However, any candidates who want to continue using E-Qual to collect signatures from voters in their 2020 district should not update their district at this time.”
Doty also reminded candidates of two upcoming webinars advising on procedures for the 2022 filing cycle.
In a press release response, gubernatorial candidate Steve Gaynor lambasted Hobbs for giving candidates this hurdle on short notice.
“The E-Qual collapse is an absolute injustice,” stated Gaynor. “It makes it harder for Arizonans to run for office, and impedes the ability of our citizens to participate in the democratic process. Secretary Hobbs has failed to ensure the integrity of our elections by creating roadblocks to participation, and her incompetence shows plainer each day. This cannot stand – Katie Hobbs needs to get her act together and the E-Qual system must be fixed immediately.”