A superior court judge rejected Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s complaint against Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ election manual last Friday because he filed it too close to ongoing elections.
Yavapai Superior Court Judge John Napper expressed concern that siding with Brnovich would disrupt this year’s elections.
Napper acknowledged that Hobbs’ 2021 Elections Manual and Procedures (EPM) required editing and revision. However, he declared that Brnovich’s refusal to work with Hobbs on the proposed EPM didn’t mean that Hobbs didn’t fulfill her lawful duties, noting that Brnovich had from October 1 to December 31 to work on the EPM with Hobbs, as prescribed by statute.
“The parties’ failure to properly work with one another to improve the Secretary’s initial draft of the EMP [sic] does not mean she failed to perform a ministerial or discretionary act requiring a mandate from the Court,” wrote Napper. “At this point in the game, there is no mechanism for the Court to assist the parties in constructing an EMP [sic] which complies with A.R.S. § 16-452 within the timeline of the statute. The Complaint was filed far too late for this to occur without disrupting elections that have already begun.”
That doesn’t mean that Hobbs’ latest EPM will be used in current elections. Napper noted that election officials are following the EPM from 2019 since it was submitted and approved properly by both the governor and attorney general.
Hobbs celebrated the ruling. She characterized Brnovich’s complaint as “an attempt to rewrite the election rules” for political gain. Brnovich didn’t issue a public statement on the ruling.
Hobbs’ criticism paralleled those of opponents to her 2021 EPM, who argued that she was incorporating certain changes — such as allowing certain votes to be cast at the wrong precinct — to benefit her gubernatorial campaign.
Brnovich filed his complaint against Hobbs for the 2021 EPM at the end of April.
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.