If Adrian Fontes likes spending time in court, he’s going to have a fun time in 2024. In case you’ve lost count, Arizona’s Secretary of State has been sued three times over his Elections Procedures Manual (EPM) in just the last two weeks. That’s what happens when you produce one of the most radical EPMs in Arizona’s history.
At the end of January, Senate President Warren Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma filed a lawsuit against Fontes over a variety of provisions in his EPM that violate or conflict with current election laws in our state. But the party was just getting started.
Last week, the Arizona Republican Party, the Republican National Committee, and the Yavapai County GOP also sued Fontes for his blatant attempt to rewrite election law through his EPM. And on the same day, we filed our own lawsuit against Fontes over the promulgation of certain unlawful rules set forth in his EPM.
The reality is that, in his role as Secretary of State, Adrian Fontes is supposed to provide an EPM that gives impartial direction to county recorders to ensure uniform and correct implementation of election law. Instead, he prescribed certain rules without the power to do so and moved forward with an EPM that contains several “rules” that are unconstitutional.
Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes is facing a lawsuit over the use of unstaffed drop boxes to collect mail-in ballots.
Arizona Free Enterprise Club (AFEC) filed the lawsuit on Tuesday in the Yavapai County Superior Court.
AFEC argued that Arizona law requires drop boxes for mail-in ballots — or, early voted ballots — must be located at polling places and monitored by election workers. Based on that reading of statute, AFEC declared that the current Election Procedures Manual (EPM), enacted in 2019 by the former secretary of state and now-Gov. Katie Hobbs, and Fontes’ draft EPM unlawfully allowed unstaffed drop boxes.
“With no basis in statute, and supported by nothing more than executive fiat, the Secretary has authorized election officials throughout the state to employ unstaffed drop-boxes as another manner by which voters may cast their votes early,” said AFEC.
AFEC noted that the EPM provisions on the drop boxes contained zero citations to Arizona law, although the EPM issued over 1,000 citations across its pages elsewhere. AFEC said the omission was purposeful.
“The EPM’s omission of citations to Arizona’s statutes was surely not an oversight. When a statute supports an EPM regulation, the EPM cites it,” said AFEC. “Apparently, though, the EPM’s authors could find no enabling statute supporting unstaffed drop-boxes.”
Since the EPM doesn’t require these unstaffed drop boxes to be located at or near an election official’s building, they have been established at locations like churches, elementary schools, restaurants, humane societies, libraries, fire departments, and community centers. It also doesn’t place any restraints on the number or geographic distribution of the drop boxes per county.
According to AFEC, state law only allows two destinations and two entities for ballot submissions: the office of a designated election official, usually the county recorder, or a polling place, and a federal postal worker or voter’s designated agent. AFEC said that unstaffed drop boxes were therefore an impermissible intermediary in the chain of custody.
Unlike U.S. Postal Service (USPS) mail collection boxes, unstaffed drop boxes don’t have federal legal protections that impart prison sentences for crimes such as obstruction of mail passage, destruction of mail, and vandalism of a mailbox. Unstaffed drop boxes also don’t enjoy a specialized law enforcement division dedicated to investigating postal crimes, like the USPS.
Additionally, unstaffed drop boxes aren’t required to have locks: they may be secured with a “tamper-evident seal.”
Unlike the USPS, which requires the swearing-in of mail carriers, any individual designated by election officials as a “ballot retriever” may transport the contents of unstaffed drop boxes. Also, drop box contents aren’t scanned, counted, or entered into a record of sorts like their USPS counterparts.
AFEC also argued that USPS mailboxes offer an additional level of security through the untold diversity of their contents, whereas election drop boxes are clearly known to contain only ballots and theoretically become susceptible to bad actors.
“A USPS mailbox is further likely to contain different varieties of mail at any given time. From the outside, it is impossible to determine whether a particular mailbox contains early voted ballots,” said AFEC. “By contrast, an unstaffed drop-box contains only completed ballots. From the outside, one can know with certainty that the contents of a ballot drop-box are completed ballots, likely a significant number of them.”
Additionally, AFEC claimed that unstaffed drop boxes increased the likelihood of voter intimidation by independent actors seeking to prevent illegal ballot submissions.
AFEC President Scott Mussi said in a statement that unstaffed drop boxes jeopardize the safety and security of elections.
“Our lawsuit contends that state statute limits the use of drop boxes to locations that are monitored by election workers, which can include existing polling locations and the county elections office. Despite this limitation, election officials and the existing election procedure manual are ignoring statute and have been setting up unmanned drop boxes all throughout the state,” said Mussi. “We believe the use of drop boxes must be in accordance with state law, and we are hopeful that our lawsuit will result in election officials ending their use at illegal locations for the 2024 election.”
An expansive interpretation of state law concerning elections wouldn’t be an unusual trait of the Hobbs EPM. In September, the Yavapai County Superior Court ruled that Fontes was perpetuating an incorrect interpretation of “registration record.” AFEC also sued in that case.
Fontes had argued that the term “registration record” in voter signature verification law meant that other documents in a voter’s record besides the registration form could be used to verify signatures. The court invalidated the expansive interpretation of the term, thereby invalidating the corresponding portion of the Hobbs EPM.
Multiple Arizona GOP groups deny involvement in an event featuring controversial right-wing speaker Nick Fuentes that purported to have their sponsorship.
The event, hosted by the Arizona chapter of College Republicans United (CRU), claimed support for the event from the Maricopa County Republican Committee (MCRC), the Maricopa County GOP, Yavapai County GOP, Pima County GOP, expelled State Rep. Liz Harris, State Rep. John Fillmore (R-LD16), Prescott chapter of the John Birch Society, and Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.
The MCRC stated that it had never authorized, sponsored, or promoted the event in question.
The other featured guest speaker — the January 6 prisoner Jake Angeli-Chansley, more widely known as the American Shaman — also spoke out. Angeli-Chansley claimed that while he accepted the invitation to speak, he wasn’t made aware of Fuentes’ invitation.
“When I agreed to speak at the AZ College Republicans United event I was not aware that I’d be sharing the stage with someone who wants a 16 year old wife,” said Angeli-Chansley. “Should I back out? Or should I do the event & blow this schmuck out of the water & expose a false prophet?”
State Rep. Alexander Kolodin (R-LD03) debunked the several GOP groups’ endorsement of the event after speaking with the groups about their alleged support.
“The GOP Committees I have spoken to were surprised to hear about it!” wrote Kolodin. “Whoever is doing this should be treated as a saboteur!”
MCRC Chairman Craig Berland also disputed involvement of MCRC or the Maricopa County GOP in a press release.
Former State Rep. and Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) leader Adam Kwasman reported that the Pima County GOP denied involvement or support as well.
The GOP group issued their own statement later through Chairman Dave Smith.
“The Pima County Republican Party never authorized nor agreed to sponsor or promote, the Arizona College Republicans United event billed for July 30, 2023,” stated the Pima County GOP. “The Pima County Republican Party holds true to the values of the Republican Party, upholds the principles of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, the laws of the state of Arizona and that of our country.”
In response to the backlash, CRU stated that they “love Messianic Jews and all ethnicities who accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.” As of press time, they haven’t followed up their original event announcement with clarification on their inclusion of the GOP groups that dispute their involvement in the event.
Fuentes has advocated for the expulsion of Jewish people from the U.S., and repeatedly pledged his love for Adolf Hitler.
The contested event is part of CRU’s second state and national convention taking place in Prescott.