Secretary of State to Shut Down Candidates’ Signature-Gathering Site, Barring New District Signatures For 2022

Secretary of State to Shut Down Candidates’ Signature-Gathering Site, Barring New District Signatures For 2022

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.”

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Governor Ducey’s 2022 State of the State Address

Governor Ducey’s 2022 State of the State Address

By Corinne Murdock |

Governor Doug Ducey’s State of the State Address focused on the positives when it came to Arizona, largely reserving criticism for the Biden Administration and federal government as a whole. The governor referenced COVID-19 a mere three times in his hour-long speech, not once mentioning case numbers, death tolls, health care workers, recovery, safety protocols, relief funding, or the like — indicating that the focus in the final year of his administration will concern all but COVID-19 mitigation. 

The governor made several explicit promises: a budget published on Friday, further tax cuts, a K-12 learning loss summer camp program, expungement of critical race theory from classrooms, increased resources for foster care families, crackdown on government abuse such as charging victims to process rape kits, and expedited plans of the I-10 expansion.

The governor also announced a five-step plan to address the border crisis; 1) increased funding to the Arizona Border Strike Force and border counties; 2) increased criminal penalties for human traffickers; 3) the American Governor’s Border Strike Force, a novel alliance with Texas Governor Greg Abbott and their top law enforcement; 4) building the remainder of the border wall; 5) a sort of strike in which U.S. senators refuse to vote “yes” on any legislation until President Joe Biden builds the border wall, installs virtual border surveillance, increases funding to local communities harmed by the border crisis, and clarifies to illegal immigrants that the border isn’t open. For that last point, Ducey suggested that Senators Mark Kelly (D-AZ) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) take advantage of draft legislation he provided on his website.

Ducey requested the legislature take up certain initiatives: establishing a program to waive the tuition of military spouses, similar to Texas’ Hazlewood Act; requiring searchable online publication of all K-12 curriculum and academic materials; school choice expansion such as through greater open enrollment, new transportation, more charter schools; . Ducey shared that public safety would be a top priority within the budget, with proposals such as making state troopers the highest paid law enforcement statewide.

The governor stated that his administration’s successes manifested as small business liability reform, wildfire solutions and funding, tribal gaming compact modernization to increase revenue streams, school choice, record funding for infrastructure, near-total COVID-19 vaccination of the state’s 65-and-older population, telemedicine, the lowest flat tax nationwide with the largest tax cut in state history, new regulation moratorium, improved foster care system, a border strike force to handle cartels and crime, 

“[A]nyone who has ever worked with me will attest: I have a hard time stopping to celebrate victory,” said Ducey. 

The governor highlighted how the state budget was underwater by $1 billion when he assumed office, caused by the recession and what Ducey called “out-of-control spending” and “budget shellgames.” He reminded those present that money was so tight the state government sold the deed to the state capitol.

Ducey reported a current surplus amounting to billions of dollars, a portion of which helped the state buy the capitol’s deed back several years ago. Likewise, he recalled how most job availability just prior to his administration was found in construction and call centers due to national perception of Arizona as a “flyover state” to Texas; Ducey explained that the state has since greatly diversified its job market.

“Now, because of our combined work, we have an all-of-the-above approach on jobs. Not just call centers but also car manufacturers, autonomous vehicles, tech start-ups and world-class semiconductors,” said Ducey. “We said we wanted to be a jobs juggernaut, and in the process, we became a paycheck paradise. Plus, unlike California, Illinois and New York, here you actually get to keep your paycheck.”

Ducey detailed how he dedicated himself to “shrink a government and grow an economy.” In addition to improvements in the unseen, like flow of state cash, Ducey pointed out that he’d reduced government size to a point where 750,000 square feet of government buildings have been demolished during his administration. The governor also emphasized that his focus for his final year would be to offset the living costs caused by Biden Administration policies. 

“It’s really not that complicated; it’s just basic common sense. Government takes in more than it needs to pay the bills, and the taxpayer should get to keep his or her hard-earned dollars,” declared Ducey. 

Ducey stated his decision to reject certain unemployment benefits deemed unnecessary, criticizing the Biden Administration for incentivizing people to not work.

“That’s not the Arizona way,” said Ducey. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch or free money. Instead we will focus on rewarding hard work.”

Concerning the border, Ducey warned that President Joe Biden and his administration are working against Arizona. The governor lobbed criticisms at Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Vice President Kamala Harris for keeping a cool distance from their duty to solve the crisis. 

Ducey called out Attorney General Merrick Garland directly for focusing on one incident within the Phoenix Police Department (PPD) while handling Black Lives Matter (BLM) unrest. 

“If you are an elected official charged with overseeing a police department and you don’t believe there’s a correlation between the attacks on law enforcement and rising crime rates nationally, you need a reality check because you’re putting public safety and human life at risk. We intend to keep Arizona a place where we honor and value our cops and all of law enforcement, including correctional officers and first responders. A place where public safety matters. No riots. No smash and grab. And a news flash for the DOJ and Merrick Garland: Mr. Attorney General, instead of attacking Police Chief Jeri Williams and her officers for risking their lives and keeping Arizona streets safe during civil unrest, your time would be better spent protecting the federal courthouses in Portland, Seattle and San Francisco. Do your job.”

While on the subject of different approaches to governance, the governor also addressed the massive influx of blue-state transplants, calling it the “good problem” of growth. He chalked the migration to discomfort with Democratic policies leading to issues such as higher taxes and stricter COVID-19 regulations. 

For the transplants, Ducey had one specific message. 

“Don’t forget why you came here in the first place. Freedom, opportunity, and good government matter,” said Ducey.

In regard to K-12 education, Ducey asserted that the state legislature under the previous administration was more interested in maxing out expenditures than quality of education. Ducey also placed blame with those school boards and unionists for imposing COVID-19 policy that did more harm to children than good. With that, the governor insisted on the importance of school choice, especially for the poorer and minority children. Ducey likened teachers unions and their supporters to Civil Rights-era politicians barring minority children from entering schools. 

“Fifty-plus years ago politicians stood in the schoolhouse door and wouldn’t let minorities in, today union-backed politicians stand in the schoolhouse door and won’t let minorities out,” said Ducey. “Many of our poor kids and children of color are trapped in a failing school. It’s time to set these families free.”

As for current issues the state faces, Ducey highlighted a “massive” backlog of untested rape kits, some of which his administration cleared up only to discover government abuse in the form of bureaucrats charging victims up to $800 in processing charges and sending collections agencies after the victims if not paid. The governor also broached the subject of drought mitigation and water supply, proposing a $1 billion investment in Mexico for desalination technology.

In closing, Ducey dismissed doubts of little to no progress due to a divided legislature and the upcoming midterm elections. His final remarks centered the focus for his last year as governor.

“As you see, as much progress as we’ve made – there’s plenty left to do on so many fronts,” said Ducey. “And we’ll have all year to grind it out together: a continued focus on the health of our citizens, and support for our hospitals, and dedicated healthcare workers; investments in cyber security to protect the identity and data of our citizens; improvements to our elections, to bring confidence and security; better broadband connectivity all across rural Arizona; more efforts to prevent wildfires; maintaining Arizona’s position as the number one pro-second amendment state in the nation; protecting life in every way possible; and all along the way, preparing for another Super Bowl, where our beautiful state will be center stage just a year from now.”

Watch the full State of the State address here:

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Governor Ducey: In-Person Education Will Continue

Governor Ducey: In-Person Education Will Continue

By Corinne Murdock |

In an apparent response to the push from teachers’ unions to revert to remote learning for at least two weeks if not more, Governor Doug Ducey announced Monday that all of Arizona would continue with in-person learning.

In a thread, Ducey reminded Arizonans of President Joe Biden’s stance on keeping schools open, as well as the past actions of unions striking for higher pay after being promised higher pay. For the latter reference, Ducey was citing his promise of a 20 percent raise.

“IN-PERSON LEARNING WILL CONTINUE IN ARIZONA[.] ‘The science is clear, and overwhelming. We know how to keep our kids safe from COVID-19 in school. K through 12 schools should be open.’ That’s from President Joe Biden. And public health experts agree. Yet union leaders are telling parents to prepare for remote learning. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, this is the same union that encouraged a teacher strike well after a teacher raise was proposed. Once again, teacher unions are playing political games with no regard for the social and emotional impact on our kids. Parents shouldn’t stand for it — and will remember these antics at the ballot box. And at the state level, we’ll be working to ensure in-person learning continues. From recruiting more substitute teachers, to ensuring that if a student is turned away for even one day of in-person learning, parents have a choice and the resources to take their child to a school that better meets their needs.”

Twitter tagged the following warning to the governor’s thread: “Some conversations get heavy[;] Don’t forget the human behind the screen.”

Ducey issued a similar Twitter thread announcement last March several weeks before the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 being announced as a national emergency. That thread announced Ducey’s executive order for all schools to continue March 15 — several days after the one-year anniversary of former President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration.

“ANNOUNCEMENT: Getting kids back in the classroom is one of the most important things we can do as we see #COVID19 cases drop and vaccinations underway. A majority of Arizona public schools are already open, and school leaders have demonstrated in-person instruction is possible to do safely. The @CDCgov has laid out a path for every school to open safely. Public health experts nationally have spoken about the importance of getting kids back in school. In Arizona, teachers have been prioritized for the vaccine, and many school districts are reporting that nearly all of their educators have received both doses. Today, I’m issuing a new Executive Order. It requires public schools to get back to teacher-led, in-person instruction by March 15, or after Spring Break. I know not every parent feels comfortable sending their kids back to school. So virtual learning will continue to be an option for those families. But many do want to go back, and this will require schools to provide that opportunity. The science is clear, and so are the social and behavioral impacts. It’s time to get kids back in the classroom. I’m confident that Arizona has made better progress on this to date than many other states, and today’s action will speed up that process even more.”

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at the time of this report, there have been 1861 reported workplace fatalities from COVID-19. OSHA issued an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) requiring employers to report employees that were hospitalized or died from COVID-19, “regardless of the amount of time between the exposure to COVID-19 in the work environment and the death or in-patient hospitalization.

These OSHA reports are given within eight hours of a fatality, or 24 hours of a hospitalization.

According to the latest counts, there have been over 24,300 deaths related to COVID-19 in Arizona. In the last six months, a total of over 6,300 deaths have occurred. Nearly 72 percent of deaths occurred in individuals over 65 years old. Nearly 16 percent of deaths occurred in individuals aged 55 to 64 years old.

Nearly 8 percent of deaths came from individuals aged 45 to 54 years old. 5 percent of deaths came from individuals 20 to 44 years old. Nearly 0 percent of deaths occurred in individuals under the age of 20: .2 percent, to be exact.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Arizona Teacher Unionists Demand School Closures Over COVID Spike

Arizona Teacher Unionists Demand School Closures Over COVID Spike

By Corinne Murdock |

Arizona educators have a new resolution to kick off 2022: a return to remote learning and school closures, with the struggle over school funding placed on the backburner temporarily. Teachers unions are calling for schools across Arizona to hold off on in-person learning for another two weeks due to the holiday spike in COVID-19 cases. 

Arizona Daily Independent reported on a key player in the push to pause in-person learning: Rebecca Garelli. She was also a critical player in the establishment of RedforEd, a teachers union activist movement, and a founding member of Arizona Educators United (AEU), a local affiliate of the National Educators United (NEU). AEU’s domain is defunct currently, though their Facebook page remains active. 

Garelli encouraged people to sign onto a letter from NEU to delay school openings for another two weeks. 

The letter was published the same day AEU published the results of a “Return to Safe Schools” survey by RedforEd to determine support for school reopenings. 

Of the nearly 500 responses from Arizona educators and community members spanning 81 different school districts and charter schools, 56 percent said “yes, with reservations” to reopening, about 24 percent said “no,” about 18 percent said “yes,” and about three percent qualified as “other” responses. Concerning work-related stress attached to in-person work: about 39 percent were “extremely stressed,” about 28 percent were “moderately stressed,” about 11 percent were “mildly stressed,” about 11 percent were “typical[ly] stress[ed],” and about 10 percent were “not stressed at all.

The Arizona transplant came from Chicago, where she made tens of thousands more — at least about $12,800 more —while working as a middle school math and science teacher in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) than she has in Arizona. According to open records, Garelli made around $80,800 a year as a middle school teacher and for three years an additional estimated $7,400 as a CPS consultant, then $69,000 with the Arizona Department of Education (ADE). 

NotInOurSchools reported Garelli’s hire and relocation to Arizona following the appointment of Kathy Hoffman, the current Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction. Garelli also serves on the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission Steering Committee.

The unionists’ timing this year to strong-arm a halt on returning to classrooms wasn’t novel. Last New Year’s Eve, Garelli suggested educators take coordinated “sickouts” and “other actions” on behalf of NEU. 

This year, Garelli promised that she wouldn’t be sending her children to school “anytime soon” due to the increase in COVID-19 cases. 

Another key player in the RedforEd founding, Arizona Education Association (AEA) President Joe Thomas, also called for remote learning. The AEA is a state affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA). 

Garelli, Thomas, and Dylan Wegela led AEU, which oversaw and organized the RedforEd movement. Noah Karvelis — a Littleton Elementary School District (LESD) music teacher quickly appointed as president of the Littleton Education Association (LEA), a local AEA affiliate, and AEU co-founder — told the Shanti Journal in a 2018 spotlight interview that RedforEd started as a Twitter exchange between him and Thomas. That interview has since been removed from the journal’s website. 

“RedforEd is a movement to increase funding for education in Arizona. The primary goal is to restore the $1.1 billion in education funding cuts. It all started with a tweet between myself and Joe Thomas discussing what the climate among educators in Arizona was like,” stated Karvelis. “Ultimately, we decided to have me start a RedforEd day.”

December of 2020, the NEA claimed that mitigation measures like remote learning were far more important than the effects they had on schoolchildren. The association claimed that the children were “resilient.”

“Yes, it’s been difficult. There is learning loss. There are social-emotional challenges. In some cases, there is sickness, economic hardship, or trauma,” wrote the NEA. “But students are extremely resilient.”

Last October, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared that the current state of youth mental health qualified as a national emergency. 

The next month, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy published an opinion in USA Today urging schools nationwide to keep schools open. They cited the 50 percent decline in child and adolescent COVID-19 cases nationwide from late last August to late October.

“[I]t’s on adults to recognize that our highest responsibility to children and youth is to lift up their needs; equip them to be physically, mentally and socially healthy; and give them a chance, at long last, to thrive,” wrote the two officials. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Cyber Ninjas Added as Defendant, Deposed For Hearing on Audit Next Month

Cyber Ninjas Added as Defendant, Deposed For Hearing on Audit Next Month

By Corinne Murdock |

Cyber Ninjas will be a defendant in an ongoing case to access all records related to the Arizona Senate audit of the 2020 election, according to a court ruling last Wednesday. CEO Doug Logan was called to testify shortly after the ruling; his deposition is scheduled to take place January 5. 

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Kemp asserted that Cyber Ninjas records were a matter of public record and characterized the company as an agent of the Arizona Senate. The plaintiff, American Oversight, had claimed that adequate relief wasn’t possible without adding Cyber Ninjas as a defendant because the company hadn’t turned over records requested.

“Cyber Ninjas possesses certain public records that the Senate Defendants are statutorily obligated to maintain and that the Senate Defendants have been ordered to produce in this matter. The Senate Defendants have made demand on Cyber Ninjas for those public records, but Cyber Ninjas has failed to provide them,” stated American Oversight. “In addition, Cyber Ninjas is properly joined because it is the custodian of certain public records, as was recently held in Cyber Ninjas, Inc. v. Hannah […] ‘Cyber Ninjas was properly joined as a necessary party in PNI’s special action because . . . as an agent of the Senate, it is alleged to be the sole custodian of records pertaining to the audit that are subject to disclosure under the PRL. In other words, joinder of Cyber Ninjas is necessary only because the Senate does not have the public records that are in Cyber Ninjas’ custody.’”

Logan requested to be added onto the case as an amicus party only, which Kemp denied. 

American Oversight is an investigative and litigational organization that files open records requests. They first sued the Arizona Senate in May after not receiving their requested records on the election audit.

The latest court developments in American Oversight v. Karen came days after Cyber Ninjas presented additional findings on purported election integrity issues to Pima County. Cyber Ninjas was joined in their presentation by secretary of state candidate and State Representative Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley).

Finchem read aloud a letter claimed to be from an anonymous Democrat whistleblower. The unidentified individual alleged that fellow Democrats added 35,000 votes to President Joe Biden’s totals in Pima County. The allegation described a secret meeting with the Pima County Democratic Party to embed the votes across the county, detailing spreadsheet plans that would avoid any audit suspicion by keeping fraudulent votes in groups of 1,000 and total votes below the entire voting population. 

The Pima County Democratic Party derided the claims as lies and part of a grifting scheme. 

Election night reports that Biden won Pima County by nearly ten points: 58.6 to former President Donald Trump’s 39.9 percent. 

The current secretary of state, Katie Hobbs, has the complete opposite perspective of Finchem. In addition to dismissing Cyber Ninja’s claims outright — usually calling their audit work a “#fraudit” on Twitter — Hobbs proposed a slew of progressive election reforms in a letter submitted to the state legislature last week.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.