Ambiguity in New “Statement of Interest” Requirement May Boot A Candidate off the Ballot

Candidates may think that filing a “statement of interest” by January 2, 2020 renders all their prior nomination petition signatures immune from challenge. Candidates should think twice about that.

Last year the Legislature imposed a new requirement that most candidates file a “statement of interest” with the applicable election office as a prerequisite to collecting candidate petition signatures. A.R.S. § 16-311(H) thus now provides that “any nomination petition signatures collected before the statement of interest is filed are invalid and subject to challenge.” But since signature collection was no doubt underway when the bill became effective on August 27, 2019, Section 6(A) of the bill created a transition rule:

Notwithstanding [the new law], a candidate who collects signatures before the effective date of this act . . . shall file a statement of interest with the appropriate filing officer not later than January 2, 2020. On timely filing the statement of interest as prescribed by this section the candidate’s otherwise legally sufficient signatures are valid and not subject to challenge on the basis of their collection before the filing date of the candidate’s statement of interest.

This transition rule obviously protects signatures collected prior to August 27, 2019: as long as a statement of interest is filed by January 2, 2020, any pre-August 27th signatures cannot be challenged based on the new law. But what about signatures collected between August 27, 2019 and January 2, 2020?  That is an open question. It would be presumptuous to conclude that a statement of interest filed by January 2nd automatically protects all signatures collected prior to that date. That is because the transition rule appears to only address “a candidate who collects signatures before the effective date,” and requires a candidate in that scenario to file a statement of interest before January 2, 2020. Although the second sentence appears to more broadly protect signatures collected “before the filing date of the candidate’s statement of interest,” that proviso only applies if the statement of interest was filed “as prescribed by this section.” Normal principles of statutory construction require that Section 6(A) be read as a whole, so it would be imprudent to read the second sentence in isolation. Thus, it is quite possible that signatures collected between August 27, 2019 and the filing of a pre-January 2, 2020 statement of interest might be invalidated by court.

Some notable state and county candidates waited until very late 2019 or early 2020 to file their statement of interest. Were their signatures gathered prior to August 27, 2019, or did they intentionally keep their candidacy under the radar as long as possible?  Some candidates like Congressman Raul Grijalva (CD3) have not filed any statement of interest whatsoever.

This issue will be ripe for litigation in April, so expect a challenge.

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