The state is facing a lawsuit filed Monday over an alleged violation of state law with the early ballot signature verification process outlined in the secretary of state’s Election Procedures Manual (EPM). The plaintiffs requested special action relief due to an alleged lack of an equally plain, speedy, and adequate legal alternative remedy for their grievance.
Statute requires that envelope signatures match those on the voter’s registration record. If not, the county recorder must contact the voter and confirm that the voter personally completed and signed the early ballot affidavit.
However, the current EPM — written by Gov. Katie Hobbs in her former capacity as the secretary of state — instructs county recorders to validate early ballot affidavits if they determine the signature matches any signature in any election-related document available to them. The lawsuit argued that the EPM’s allowed materials aren’t legally considered “registration records” and therefore not lawful comparative references for conducting signature validation.
“[T]he signatures encompassed within the EPM’s errant instruction cannot be used either to effectuate the registration of an individual or to lawfully amend an existing registration,” stated the lawsuit.
Arizona law doesn’t explicitly define the term “registration record.” However, the lawsuit argued that the natural understanding of the term relates to a document effectuating or amending voter registration that contains voter-supplied information required by federal and Arizona law, as well as a signed certification attesting to the provided information.
“A properly executed and submitted registration form, as may be amended and updated by the registrant from time to time, ‘constitute[s] an official public record of the registration of the elector,’” stated the lawsuit. “Accordingly, the ‘record of the registration of the elector — i.e., her “registration record,” consists of the complete and facially valid federal and state forms submitted by that individual, and any amendments thereto made by the submission of new forms, an early ballot request form, a response to an Active Early Voting List notice, or a provisional ballot envelope.”
Citizens may register to vote using forms provided by the federal or state government; both forms require full name, residential address, date of birth, a government-issued ID number, political party affiliation if applicable, and a signed, sworn attestation of eligibility (including U.S. citizenship). An Arizona voter registration form also requires telephone number, location of birth, occupation, father’s last name or mother’s maiden name, age, proof of citizenship, and statements affirming residency, status of any other existing registration, and any absence of disqualifying felony conviction.
The lawsuit stated that the named defendant, Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, has gone beyond his lawful jurisdiction and gone against statute by upholding Hobbs’ EPM. Fontes refused to heed lawmakers’ requests to reject Hobbs’ EPM earlier this year.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Arizona Free Enterprise Club (AFEC), a nonprofit social welfare corporation specializing in limited government that includes election integrity; Restoring Integrity and Trust in Elections, a Virginia-based nonprofit social welfare corporation specializing in election integrity; and Dwight Kadar, a Yavapai County resident and elector.
AFEC President Scot Mussi told AZ Free News that Hobbs’ EPM essentially rewrote state law to make invalid voting easier.
“The current election procedures manual adopted by the Secretary of State has rewritten state law regarding signature verification for mail-in ballots,” said Mussi. “The result is a process that invites questionable methods and opportunities for abuse during the signature review process. It’s time for the courts to bring this illegal EPM practice to a halt.”
Early ballot voters aren’t required to prove their identity through documents or additional personal information, like a birthdate or Social Security number. The sole validator for early ballot voters is the affidavit form signature on the exterior of the envelope housing the ballot. By signing the affidavit form, a voter attests under penalty of perjury that he has not voted and will not vote in any other jurisdiction, that he has registered to vote in the correct county, that he understands that multiple voting is a felony, and that he personally voted the ballot enclosed and signed the affidavit.
In this past November’s election, Arizona voters were misled into passing Prop 211. Billed as the “Voters’ Right to Know Act” that’s supposed to “Stop Dark Money” in our state, it sounds harmless enough. But that was all a part of the clever messaging from its campaigners—like former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard—to scare the average person into voting “yes.”
Unfortunately, it worked. But Prop 211 is unconstitutional, and that’s why the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, in partnership with the Center for Arizona Policy and the Goldwater Institute, filed a lawsuit to stop the Act from being enforced…
A civil rights lawsuit has been filed by two Arizona nonprofits in hopes of having the recently passed Voters’ Right To Know Act aka Proposition 211 declared unconstitutional.
The Arizona Free Enterprise Club (AFEC) and the Center for Arizona Policy have joined forces to seek a preliminary injunction barring implementation of Prop 211 while the case is litigated. The groups are represented by the Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.
In announcing Thursday’s lawsuit, AFEC issued a statement which argues that Arizona voters “were misled into passing Prop 211” by supporters like former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard who railed against the vague threat of “dark money” in the state’s elections.
Prop 211 received more yes votes than no votes in all 15 counties, and easily passed by more than 1 million votes. But the plaintiffs insist the new law jeopardizes and interferes with the right of all Americans to freely support campaigns and causes in Arizona without being intimidated.
The Voters’ Right To Know Act requires all entities and persons spending more than $50,000 in “campaign media spending” on statewide campaigns (or $25,000 on other campaigns) excluding personal monies and business income to disclose the original donors of any contribution over $5,000.
The Act involves the disclosure of those donors’ names, mailing addresses, and occupations. It also requires disclosure of the identities of those donors’ employers.
“This is just another attempt to target, harass, and dox conservatives who won’t submit to the Left’s agenda,” the AFEC statement reads. “And if you don’t think this happens, think again.”
The statement notes the experiences of its own staff “who have received numerous phone calls and voicemails threatening violence—including one staff member whose car was vandalized for engaging in public communications on our behalf.”
As required by state law, the Plaintiffs were required to provide notice to the Arizona Attorney General, the Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, and the President of the Arizona Senate that they are seeking to have Prop 211 declared unconstitutional.
There is recent precedent for the legal arguments put forth by the Goldwater Institute for the plaintiffs. A U.S. Supreme Court decision last year in Americans for Prosperity v. Bonta struck down a similar law in California on the grounds that the First Amendment protects the freedom to anonymously support organizations and nonprofits.
A central theme of the Arizona lawsuit against Prop 211 is the guarantee in the state Constitution that citizens have the right to speak freely, a right even broader than what is guaranteed under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit notes the Arizona Constitution expressly guarantees that an individual’s “private affairs” will not be disturbed, particularly those that pertain to financial information and one’s choices when casting a ballot.
“Transparency is for government; privacy is for individuals,” the lawsuit argues.
Another problem with Prop 211, according to the lawsuit, is its definition of campaign media spending to include any public communication which “promotes, supports, attacks, or opposes” a candidate within six months of an election or “refers” to a candidate 90 days before a primary election.
That overly broad language means any article, blog, or social media post by groups like AFEC or Center for Arizona Policy about something as commonplace as a vote by a lawmaker could trigger compliance with the new law if that lawmaker is running for office or opts to soon after the communication.
“And if you think that by simply avoiding traditional campaign media spending (sending out a mailer, airing a TV commercial, etc.) will protect you from Prop 211, think again,” the AFEC statement notes. That is because the new law applies to all “research, design, production…or any other activity conducted in preparation for” a public communication about a candidate.
“Since writing articles and producing social media posts have a cost, we would have to calculate and regularly track how much staff time and office resources are used to produce these materials,” the statement notes.
Such an onerous level of accounting would force AFEC to drastically limit its public communications—even if a communications are not campaign related—“to avoid the absurd dragnet and complex regulatory labyrinth established by this Act,” the group noted.
Joining AFEC and Center for Arizona Policy as plaintiffs are “Plaintiff Doe I” and “Plaintiff Doe II,” both described as Arizona citizens and Maricopa County residents. The Doe plaintiffs allege that it is unconstitutional to require them to “reveal his or her identity when donating to charitable organizations that engage in public communications supporting issues and candidates” the two support.
Their lawsuit has been assigned to Judge John Hannah of the Maricopa County Superior Court. The defendants include Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs as well as the Arizona Clean Elections Commission, its executive director, and its five commissioners.
It is the Clean Elections Commission which is tasked with establishing and interpreting the new standards outlined in Prop 211. The Commission has often been at odds with AFEC in past ballot initiatives and litigation, including one case in which the U.S. Supreme Court significantly reduced the Commission’s power.
Terri Jo Neff is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or send her news tips here.
Arizona has the highest inflation rate in the country — making this state the number one victim of President Joe Biden’s inflation crisis.
The Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale area suffers from 13 percent inflation, according to the latest Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data released Tuesday. Nationwide inflation rate sits just over 8 percent.
According to recent polling, the inflation and border crises are of equal importance to Arizona voters.
Arizona Free Enterprise Club (AZFEC) President Scot Mussi told AZ Free News that the Biden administration has only worsened the economic woes of Arizonans. Mussi warned that consumers would continue to cut back on major purchases, and business owners would freeze expansions and hiring. He also pointed out that any reductions in inflation weren’t due to the Biden administration’s actions, but instead consumers cutting back.
“It’s pretty clear that the decision makers in Washington want to make this situation worse,” said Mussi. “The recession will continue to linger on until policy makers get serious about runaway spending.”
While Arizonans and the rest of America were taking in the federal government’s latest inflation report on Tuesday, President Joe Biden was celebrating the controversial Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
Biden didn’t address how the latest inflation data reflected historic highs. Rather, the president asserted that the effects of inflation were improving, and that the state of the economy should come as good news for Americans.
Arizona’s Democratic state legislators also celebrated the IRA.
However, not all within Biden’s party agreed that the IRA and other recent actions by the president are wins. In an interview this week, Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ) refused to affirm that Biden is doing a good job as president. Congressman Andy Biggs (R-AZ-05) assessed that Kelly treaded carefully due to Biden’s unpopularity among voters.
Mick McGuire, former Arizona National Guard general and failed senate candidate, told “The Conservative Circus” on Tuesday that Kelly was just as guilty as Biden for failing Arizonans with worsening inflation.
Mussi asserted that the IRA wasn’t anything to celebrate, calling it the “Inflation Destruction Act.” He explained that the IRA wouldn’t reduce inflation. Mussi noted that the government hasn’t even distributed all of the stimulus funds from the American Rescue Plan.
“We haven’t even finished rolling out the Biden COVID recovery act: the $1.9 trillion spending palooza. There’s no discipline right now, and there’s really no end in sight,” said Mussi. “Right now, we’ve hit what would be the definition of a recession. Even if you wanted to use the Biden administration’s viewpoint, at best you could say we’re in a bad state of stagflation. There’s absolutely no growth.”
Arizona Free Enterprise Club (AFEC) is reveling in Friday’s Arizona Supreme Court ruling affirming that the attempt to get the Arizona Free and Fair Elections Act on the upcoming general election ballot as a voter initiative has failed.
“The ruling today vindicates what we knew all along: the radical Free and Fair election initiative lacked enough lawful signatures to qualify for the ballot,” AFEC President Scot Mussi said after the order was issued under Chief Justice Robert Brutinel’s name. “Arizona voters, the rule of law, and basic math were victorious today.”
What would have been known as Proposition 210 on the 2022 General Election ballot included numerous changes to state law drafted by the Arizona Democracy Resource Center (ADRC Action), such as a ban on legislative election audits and allowing election day voter registration.
AFEC took the lead in opposing the voter initiative, while some elections officials worried making that many hodge-podge changes to election and campaign finance laws at one time would have negative unintended consequences.
AFEC’s legal challenge alleged myriad problems with more than one-half of the 475,290 petition signatures submitted by ADRC Action. It ended with Brutinel’s order affirming Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Mikitish’s finding that the minimum 237,645 signature threshold was missed by 1,458 signatures.
The outcome is exactly what AFEC’s Mussi predicted. In a series of statements Friday, Mussi called out ADRC Action for the “rigged methodology” the group’s attorneys pushed the courts to use when calculating the number of valid signatures. He said the mathematic gymnastics was intended “to sneak their disqualified measure onto the ballot.”
“Their dubious formula cherry picked data that boosted their numbers, even including signatures that were disqualified by the counties in the random sample,” Mussi said. “None of their formula was rooted in statute or historical precedent and was a Hail-Mary attempt to resuscitate thousands of signatures that simply should not have counted.”
The justices ordered Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs to rescind the prior determination that the initiative had qualified for the ballot.