Liberal Election-Related Initiative Hit With Lawsuit Over Non-Compliant Petition Circulators

Liberal Election-Related Initiative Hit With Lawsuit Over Non-Compliant Petition Circulators

By Terri Jo Neff |

A judge will decide next week whether Arizona voters will see an initiative on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot to approve what the Arizona Free Enterprise Club calls “radical” election procedure changes.  

Judge Joseph Mikitish of the Maricopa County Superior Court has set Aug. 5 for a hearing on an Order to Show Cause as to why he should not grant a request by the Arizona Free Enterprise Club (AFEC) to invalidate more than half the signatures submitted earlier this month on initiative petitions for the proposed Arizonans for Free and Fair Elections Act (AFFE Act).

Mikitsh’s hearing stems from a lawsuit filed July 22 by AFEC, which argues the AFFE Act would upend Arizona’s election administration and voter registration laws, curtail current safeguards with the initiative and referendum process, and reduce candidate contribution limits while promoting more taxpayer subsidies to certain ‘Clean Elections’ candidates.

According to AFEC’s lawsuit, the political committee Arizonans for Free and Fair Elections (ADRC Action) filed an application in February with Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs for a serial number necessary to commence a petition drive in hopes of getting the Arizonans for Free and Fair Elections Act on the statewide ballot for the 2022 General Election.

Then on July 7, Hobbs was presented with nearly 52,000 petitions sheets containing a purported 475,290 signatures of qualified electors, of which at least 237,645 must be deemed valid to get the AFFE Act on the general election ballot.

But state law requires that all circulators who are not Arizona residents along with all paid circulators regardless of residency must register as circulators before they may begin collecting petition signatures. The circulators must also affix their unique circulator registration ID number to each petition they circulate.

AFEC contends, however, that more than 1,000 of the circulators who collected signatures for the AFFE Act initiative were non-compliant with at least one state election law. Some of the compliance issues involved incomplete registration forms while other circulators allegedly did not write  their “full and correct registration number on both sides of the sheet,” as required by law.

The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring Hobbs to disqualify all petition signatures obtained by circulators who were not registered in compliance with state law. It also asks Mikitish to bar the state’s 15 county recorders from verifying any signatures on petitions in which the circulator’s registration number was not properly affixed.

“Petition signatures obtained by individuals who failed to strictly comply with

one or more provisions of applicable law are legally insufficient,” the lawsuit states. “Injunctive remedies are necessary to prevent irreparable injury to the

Plaintiffs and to ensure that the Defendant fully and effectively discharges the duties imposed upon her by state law.”

The lawsuit does not supply a tally of the disputed signatures, but AFEC’s Executive Director Scot Mussi said Monday that well over half of the signatures submitted by ADRC Action were collected in violation of Arizona law.

“That should be more than enough to invalidate this initiative,” Mussi said.

Among the provisions of the Arizonans for Free and Fair Elections Act is one which would restrict legislative election audits such as the one Senate President Karen Fann approved last year. It would also allow same-day voter registration

In addition, it would prohibit any law being enacted calling for voters  to show identification when dropping off a mail-in ballot at a polling station or election center.

Another provision of the Act is a requirement that elections officials accept tribal IDs when registering voters and confirming their voting eligibility, even though county recorders do not have access to tribal membership databases.

Election-related legal challenges are heard by the courts on an expedited basis. Mikitish’s show cause hearing comes more than three months before the Nov. 8 election, but the case must be resolved by the end of August to ensure the counties have sufficient time for printing and delivery of early ballots and ballots which are sent to voters under the Uniformed and OverseasCitizens Absentee Voting Act.

Even if the AFEC legal challenge fails, many elections observers doubt that voters will approve the initiative. The problem, they note, is that the Act includes so many different provisions that voters will find enough objectionable that they will reject the whole initiative.  

Co-plaintiffs in the case are AFEC’s Mussi and Aimee Yentes, both of whom are registered voters in Arizona. Meanwhile, Arizonans for Free and Fair Elections (ADRC Action) has been named as a Real Party in Interest in the lawsuit.

AFEC is an Arizona nonprofit corporation organized and operated for the promotion of social welfare, within the meaning of IRS Code of 1986, section 501(c)(4). The organization engages in public education and advocacy in support of free markets and economic growth in the State of Arizona.

Democratic Secretary of State Candidates in Conflict Over Alleged Opposition Research

Democratic Secretary of State Candidates in Conflict Over Alleged Opposition Research

By Corinne Murdock |

The Democratic primary for secretary of state race is heating up after reports that Reginald Bolding will release opposition research on Adrian Fontes in the near future. 

The news prompted Fontes to issue a video to dissuade the significance of whatever Bolding plans on releasing. He didn’t elaborate on what the opposition research would entail, but he assured the public that the potential controversies had no bearing on his ability to serve. 

Fontes alleged that Bolding was acting out in anger due to recent media reports on his dark money ties, and because media revealed that a supporter of Fontes filed a complaint on the dark money issue. Fontes also called for Bolding to drop out of the race.

“He is going to try to levy some personal attacks on me, on things that have nothing to do with the office, on irrelevancies, which is what desperate politicians will do,” said Fontes. “Know this: there is no Democrat in this race that is better to beat Mark Finchem in the fall.” 

Bolding hasn’t addressed the claim of his dropping opposition research. Instead, the minority leader tweeted that not every post on Twitter contained real information. 

Bolding came under scrutiny this week after reports emerged that his campaign was propped up by dark money from the political action committee (PAC) of his voting rights nonprofit: Our Voice, Our Vote Arizona. The nonprofit’s PAC funded campaign ads for Bolding. Dark money refers to funds whose sources aren’t disclosed.

In an interview with ABC15 last week, Bolding denied that his nonprofit was a dark money group on the technicality that his nonprofit markets itself as a voting rights organization, and that he doesn’t run the PAC arm. 

“There’s definitely a separation between community organizing and dark money entities that have been designed to change the election outcome,” said Bolding. 

The Phoenix-based market research firm, OH Predictive Insights, is polling Arizona Democrats about Bolding and Fontes. One of the questions discussed Bolding’s dark money controversy at length. 

The news of Bolding’s ties came several weeks after reports came out that Bolding raised more than any other Democrat among state House candidates and officeholders. 

Our Voice, Our Vote is part of Activate 48, a coalition of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) organizations. Several other members of Activate 48 endorsed Bolding and campaigned for him: Living United for Change (LUCHA), Mi Familia Vota, and Chispa. 

One recent Activate 48 mailer for Bolding included the Planned Parenthood for Arizona (PPAZ) endorsement. Both Bolding and Fontes served on PPAZ’s board in the past.

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

Democratic Secretary of State Candidates in Conflict Over Alleged Opposition Research

Democrat Secretary of State Candidate Wants Voting Precincts Eliminated, All-Mail Elections

By Corinne Murdock |

Former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes declared that Arizona should eliminate its voting precincts and adopt all-mail voting.

Fontes proposed the ideas during a half-hour debate with House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding (D-Laveen) hosted by Arizona Horizon on Wednesday.

“We need to have vote centers across the entire state so anyone can vote anywhere,” said Fontes. “Do we need reform? The simple answer is yes, but that reform needs to come in a continuation of the progress Arizona has had for 30 years, not stepping backwards like some people want.” 

Fontes also proposed that the state should adopt Maricopa County’s ballot tracking system and send voters text messages when mail-in ballots are mailed to the voter and received by the election department. 

Bolding appeared to disagree with Fontes. 

“One thing I do think is extremely important is that we have to provide Arizonans with choices. And we have to make sure that we have free, fair, and secure elections,” said Bolding. “We have to make sure our systems are working for everybody.”

That wasn’t to say that Bolding disagreed with mail-in voting. Bolding insisted that vote-by-mail is secure, and that Arizona is a prime example of that fact.

Fontes responded that his proposal for vote centers would still provide options for those who want to vote in-person rather than by mail. He insinuated that Bolding didn’t understand all-mail voting because he lacked the election administration experience. 

“It’s very clear to folks with the experience in these offices that when we say ‘all ballot by mail’ we have to have an option for replacing messed-up ballots, ballots that folks want to change, for example: they can bring them in, turn them in, and get new ballots,” said Fontes.

Bolding pledged to register high school seniors to vote as soon as they turned 18 and improve the state’s lobbyist database. He said that partisanship has reached an “all-time high” in the state and country. 

Fontes pledged to publish an easy-to-read elections procedures manual, reduce red tape for small business development such as registries of trademarks and notary public procedures, increase public communications, and improve information technology security systems.

Bolding argued that the current elections process was too complicated for most Arizonans to understand. Fontes agreed. 

Fontes claimed that his administration executed a secure election that defeated former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was rigged to ensure President Joe Biden’s victory. 

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

Arizona Democratic Leader: Donald Trump Would’ve Stolen Election If Republican Was Secretary of State

Arizona Democratic Leader: Donald Trump Would’ve Stolen Election If Republican Was Secretary of State

By Corinne Murdock |

Arizona House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding (D-Laveen) claimed Republican secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem would have rigged the 2020 election in favor of former President Donald Trump if he had been in office.

Bolding made the statement during Wednesday’s debate for Arizona’s secretary of state candidates as a response to Arizona Horizon host Ted Simons’ question about preventing politicization of the secretary of state’s office.

“The reality is, is that in 2020 if Mark Finchem was our secretary of state, Donald Trump would’ve stolen the election. How do we know? Because he told us,” said Bolding.

After the debate, Bolding tweeted that voters needed to “move past the 2020 elections” in order to “change the tone” of the upcoming elections. 

Bolding’s remark elicited an incredulous expression from his debate opponent, fellow Democratic candidate and former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes. 

Simons didn’t respond to Bolding’s accusation. Instead, he addressed a separate question to Fontes about the importance of Democratic voters to select a winning candidate.

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

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.