Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich requested Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre to investigate the two-week suspension of the secretary of state’s signature-gathering system for candidates, E-Qual. The March 17 suspension lasted until Wednesday, five days before the April 4 deadline, disabling sections of the system for legislative and congressional candidates to submit their ballot-qualifying signatures.
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs warned candidates in January that she would suspend the system up until the signature-gathering deadline once the Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) certified the new district maps. The forewarned shutdown not only caused backlash due to its impact on candidates’ signature-gathering efforts to qualify for the ballot — Attorney General Mark Brnovich warned Hobbs that such a shutdown would be illegal. In a letter, Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Wright warned Hobbs that she could face a class 3 misdemeanor — up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine — for not fulfilling her lawful duties, or even a felony with up to a year in prison for taking down E-Qual.
Upon receipt of the letter, Hobbs sued to prevent any prosecution. The courts didn’t take her side. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joan Sinclair ruled that Wright’s letter wasn’t legal action, but rather a notification of Hobbs’ legal duties.
“The letter itself notifies the Secretary that in the [attorney general’s] opinion, taking E-Qual offline during the candidate filing period would be ‘contrary to law.’ It further informs the Secretary that when a duty is imposed by Title 16 on a public officer, knowingly failing or refusing to perform that duty can be either a class 6 felony or a class 3 misdemeanor,” wrote Sinclair. “While the Secretary clearly viewed this as a threat, the letter did not promise or guarantee prosecution and thus does not create a controversy properly before the court.”
Despite warnings from the attorney general’s office, the sections of E-Qual for legislative and congressional candidates were suspended on March 17. Two weeks passed. Then on Wednesday, just five days before the signature-gathering deadline, Hobbs announced that the legislative and congressional candidates’ sections of the system were back online. She conceded that the shutdown had to do with necessary redistricting updates.
Just the day before, the entire E-Qual system experienced an outage anticipated to last past the April 4 deadline. Hobbs communicated that the outage was caused by a hardware malfunction. However, that unplanned outage was fixed within several hours.
The anticipated outage would’ve most heavily impacted Maricopa County attorney candidates; the former attorney, Allister Adel, resigned last Friday, giving candidates just two weeks’ notice to gather enough signatures to qualify for the election.
Hobbs didn’t respond on social media to Brnovich’s requested investigation. Instead, the secretary of state opted to post about the International Transgender Day of Visibility.
In a statement to the Arizona Daily Star, Hobbs called Brnovich’s request to investigate her for not doing her job “ridiculous.”
“The attorney general’s continued attacks on election officials across the state for doing our jobs is ridiculous,” said Hobbs.
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.”