Arizona’s roughly 7,000 precinct committeemen positions will be filled by election this year after all, following a judge’s ruling on Tuesday that part of a recently passed emergency law is unconstitutional.
John Napper of the Yavapai County Superior Court struck down Section 4 of House Bill 2839 which had been introduced, voted on, and signed into law all on March 3 with the unintended consequence of making the political parties’ precinct committeemen (PCs) an appointed instead of elected position for the 2020 election cycle.
Under HB2839, PCs would be appointed by each county’s board of supervisors based on a list of interested candidates put forth by each county’s political party chairs.
Napper’s order of judgment came on the heels of an admission by the State of Arizona that the AZGOP and Yavapai County Republican Party plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit on March 15 were correct that Section 4 represented an unconstitutional special law, as it operated to abolish a single class of elections for a single year.
The lawsuit against the State of Arizona and the Yavapai County Election Department described Section 4 as “a poorly worded provision” which “differed radically” from the other three sections. The provision unlawfully suppressed the rights of PC candidates to stand for election while also suppressed the rights of voters to elect their PCs, the plaintiffs argued.
HB2839 also provided for the appointment of only one PC per precinct, even though there is supposed to be one PC for every 125 persons in each precinct. Instead, the emergency law would have left each precinct with only one PC regardless of the precinct’s population.
The lawsuit noted that the mistaken passage of HB2839 with Section 4 gave the Yavapai County Republican Committee the sole authority to select its PCs, authority which the group “neither wants, needs, nor considers to be legitimate or democratic.”
The State’s response, however, did not concede to any of the four other claims put forth in the lawsuit.
“The Court does not reach the issues of whether Sec. 4 of HB 2839 (2022) violates other portions of the Arizona Constitution, or the issue of legislative intent, because the Court finds that Sec. 4 of HB 2839 (2022) is unconstitutional on other grounds,” Napper wrote.
The judge specifically noted that Section 4 “is severable” from the rest of the legislation, so that his ruling will not affect the other election-related changes included in the bill.
Legislature Democrats expressed that they won’t vote to restore precinct committeemen (PC) elections this year unless Republicans kill a bill requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration, one railbird informed AZ Free News. The passage of that election integrity bill out of committee, HB2492, on Thursday appeared to be a setback for Republicans hoping to correct a mistake made last week with the passage of HB2839.
As AZ Free News reported earlier this week, HB2839 gave a political party’s local county committee the sole authority to determine who gets appointed as PC. The bill intended to alleviate candidates’ qualification deadlines for this year’s primary election under the new redistricting. However, a section that allowed PC candidates to skip signature gathering also allowed local committee members to choose the PC appointments.
Republicans need supermajority in both the House and Senate to pass the emergency measures effectively reversing HB2839 and restoring PC elections for this year, HB2840 and SB17200. PCs are responsible for helping their party by providing aid with voter registration and voter assistance during elections, as well as nominating candidates to fill county or state office vacancies.
HB2492 sponsor, State Representative Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek), sent out an email call-to-action acknowledging the murmurings that Democrats would kill PC restoration following the passage of his bill.
“Rumors are swirling at the Capitol that the Senate may try to trade HB2492 in exchange for Democrats voting for the PC election repeal so it gets an emergency clause,” wrote Hoffman. “We cannot horse trade with critical election integrity legislation!”
Reportedly, legislators failed to identify HB2839’s consequences for several reasons: some admitted to not reading the bill’s language and trusted their leadership’s take on the bill, while others just misread the bill completely.
The controversial proof-of-citizenship bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee along party lines, 5-3. Those who showed up to oppose the bill shouted, “Shame!” repeatedly at the committee after they passed the bill.
In response, State Senator Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert) thanked the crowd for making their approval of the bill easier.
“Thank you for showing us who you are,” said Petersen. “You’re making this easy, thank you.”
Efforts to fill the vacancy created by Tuesday’s resignation of Sen. Otoniel “Tony” Navarrete (D-LD30) in the face of child molestation charges will take a bit longer than expected, after it was discovered there are not enough Democrat LD30 precinct committeemen to make the nomination.
At least 30 elected precinct committeemen are required, but there is only 29, according to information obtained from the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office. That means the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors will have to appoint a citizen’s panel which will be tasked with nominating three Democrat candidates.
The board of supervisors will then vote to appoint one of the three candidates as LD30’s senator. The process could take two weeks or more if a rift occurs among within the party and interested candidates.
Navarrete announced his resignation five days after his Aug. 5 arrest on seven felonies involving sexual misconduct with minors. He had his initial court appearance the next day and was released from jail Aug. 7 to await trial after posting a $50,000 secured bond.
Numerous public officials called on Navarrete to resign as soon as word of his arrest became public, including Gov. Doug Ducey, Senate President Karen Fann, and Rep. Raquel Teran, chair of the Arizona Democratic Party.
The one-sentence resignation letter to Fann and Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios was followed by a written statement in which Navarrete “adamantly” denied “all allegations that have been made.”
Navarrete’s resignation put the brakes on an effort by Sen, Kelly Townsend for an ethics investigation. Sen. Sine Kerr, chair of the Ethics Committee, previously confirmed receiving Townsend’s complaint about Navarrete, but on Tuesday she dismissed the complaint as moot.
Court records show two boys, ages 16 and 13, told detectives with the Phoenix Police Department of being sexually molested by Navarrete in the past. The older boy alleged multiple incidents of abuse over several years. Among the evidence described in a probable cause statement is a confrontation call between Navarrete and the younger boy during which the then-senator reportedly admitted to engaging in sexual misconduct.
Confrontation calls are utilized by investigators in hopes of getting an alleged perpetrator to provide a confession or other incriminating evidence.
Navarrete has been ordered to have no-contact with the two victims named in the charges. He is also required to comply with electronic monitoring. If convicted of all charges, Navarrete faces a mandatory prison sentence of nearly 50 years.
The Arizona Senate took the final vote on 16 election-related bills on Monday, including one to restore the precinct committeemen (PC) elections, sans its emergency clause implementing it immediately. The remaining 11 of the 16 failed, with either State Senator Paul Boyer (R-Glendale) alone or State Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale) joining him to kill the bills.
The following five bills passed:
SB1270, to restore PC elections.
SB1259, increasing the minimum number of precincts included in post-election hand counts, as well as allowing an Arizona resident or the attorney general, secretary of state, or legislative council to request a recount.
SB1329, requiring county recorders or lead election officials to post online the number of early ballots returned on election day.
SB1362, allowing voters to have their early ballot tabulated on site at a polling place or voting center, so long as they present an ID.
SB1460, allowing voters to receive a standard ballot at a polling place even if they received an early ballot previously, so long as no record of their vote existed in the election system.
Six bills failed narrowly, 15-14, with Boyer being the sole Republican to vote against them:
SB1055, rendering election equipment or services contractors liable for damages and guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor if they fail to fulfill the terms of the contract.
SB1056, invalidating ballots not included in chain of custody documentation and making it a class 2 misdemeanor to knowingly put a ballot into the collection, verification, or tabulation process outside of the official chain of custody.
SB1360, allowing election observers the right to observe, document, and question all stages of the election process.
SB1465, requiring the secretary of state to revoke certification for election equipment that doesn’t meet outlined requirements, and requiring at least one member of the Equipment Certification Advisory Committee to hold a cybersecurity certification. The Senate approved a motion to reconsider the bill from its sponsor, State Senator Wendy Rogers (R-Flagstaff).
SB1577, requiring county recorders or other lead election officials to separate and record duplicated and adjudicated ballots by their type and defect or damage, compiled in a report submitted to the legislature.
SB1609, requiring a court to order an election to be repeated within 90 days if a contested ballot measure or candidate didn’t receive the highest number of votes.
On five bills, Ugenti-Rita joined Boyer and Senate Democrats to vote “no”:
SB1359, requiring unique election system passwords for election employees, volunteers, and contractors.
SB1457, requiring the secretary of state to ensure that vote recording, tabulating machines and devices meet certain security standards, don’t have internet connectivity, and may track users with unique login credentials.
SB1476, requiring ballots to be consecutively numbered with a unique number, and requiring chain of custody documents or logs to track ballots.
SB1570, implementing additional voting equipment chain of custody requirements such as access restricted to authorized election personnel, tamper-proof seals for accessible ports, and chain of custody logging, as well as prohibiting voting equipment from having internet access capabilities.
SB1572, requiring county recorders to publish a list of eligible voters on their website 10 days before primary and general elections, as well as all ballot images and sortable cast-vote records, and requiring all ballots to be separated and tabulated by precinct.
Ugenti-Rita is campaigning for secretary of state this year.
An internal conflict appears to be brewing over state legislation which passed through the House and the Senate on March 3 on combined votes of 85 to 0 and was immediately signed into law the same day.
House Bill 2839 was intended to address concerns with statutory deadlines for candidates to qualify to run in Arizona’s 2022 primary elections, the first based on the state’s recently redrawn 30 legislative and 9 congressional districts.
HB2839 was written as an emergency law to provide new rules for this year’s primary election nominating petitions. Passage required a bipartisan, supermajority margin of at least two-thirds of both the 60-member House and 30-member Senate to be become immediately effective once Gov. Doug Ducey affixed his signature.
Yet within 48 hours of the emergency law taking affect, questions began to be asked about one of the four sections of the new law. By Monday morning, the majority of legislators who voted for HB2839 conceded they either misunderstood Section 4 or had not read the bill before casting a vote.
Section 4 contains a new, this-year-only nominating petition requirement which allows candidates for political party precinct committeemen (PCs) to skip signature gathering. But it also gives a political party’s local county committee sole authority to decide which one candidate must be appointed by the county board of supervisors to every PC position for that party.
In Arizona, a PC’s minimum duties under state law involve assisting their political party in voter registration and also providing voter assistance during an election. But a key PC duty involves a vacancy in a county or state office. In most instances, it is a county’s PCs of the party of the prior officeholder who nominate the candidate(s) to fill the vacancy.
The new law also contains other provisions in Section 4 which are confusing, such as providing for only one PC for each precinct, when some precincts currently have several PCs.
Senate President Karen Fann admitted on Sunday that Section 4 resulted in an unintended change in state law. She spent the weekend and Monday working with members to design a plan to repeal Section 4 while also ensuring the thousands of Arizonans interested in serving as a two-year terms as party precinct committeemen will be able to get their names on August’s primary election ballot.
Myriad reasons have been put forth by legislators for why they voted in support of HB2839 without questioning the drastic changes to PCs. Some privately admitted they did not read the bill’s language due to its support by legislative leaders. Others say the text of Section 4 was not capitalized, leading them to believe there was nothing being changed to PC-related laws.
Still others say they read the bill but believed Section 4’s reference to selection of PCs by the local party committee applied only to new precincts recently created under the once-a-decade statewide redistricting process.
New bills were introduced Monday in both chambers – HB2840 and SB1720 – to fully repeal Section 4. However, there are not enough votes yet to pass either bill by the necessary supermajority margin to take affect immediately.
In addition, many lawmakers say they will not vote to repeal Section 4 unless there is new legislation to properly address the PC nomination petition deadline.
“I’ve been pushing for a full repeal of this language all weekend,” Rep. Jake Hoffman said Monday. “The section dealing with PC elections that was snuck into the emergency bill last week will be removed.”
Hoffman (R-LD12) also called on Monday for a thorough review of how the PC language was added to the bill without a full disclosure to legislators.
“In my meeting with leadership today I also made it exceedingly clear that there must be accountability for this abhorrent breach of trust and legislative process,” he said.