State Sued Over Alleged Illegality Of Early Ballot Signature Verification Process
By Corinne Murdock |
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.
Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.