UPDATED: this post has been eclipsed by ever-changing circumstances. Follow the post at azelectionlaw.com/index/?p=294 for updated information.
Last week the Secretary of State’s Office notified federal, state, and legislative candidates of the option to file their nomination petition signatures by certified mail. According to an email from the Elections Division, the new filing procedure reflects “concerns about how COVID-19 may affect the candidate filing process.” The authority to accept petitions by mail inherently exists under Arizona law, but it is a welcome idea for the Secretary to highlight and expand this option for the remaining few weeks of the candidate filing season.
The nomination petitions, including any E-Qual petitions and/or supplemental petitions, must arrive at the Secretary of State’s Office (not merely be postmarked) by the statutory filing deadline, April 6, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. Clean Elections qualifying contribution slips may not be mailed, however.
As a prerequisite to filing nomination petitions by mail, a candidate must have previously completed the remaining required documents (a statement of interest, nomination paper and, for state and legislative candidates, a financial disclosure statement) in the Secretary’s online candidate portal. Those documents are essentially deemed “filed” once completed within the online portal.
The Secretary also directed candidates to include a new form in the mailed packet. The new filing procedure states “this form is required to accompany your filing by mail,” but there is no statutory authority to refuse nomination petitions for failure to include a new form. Nonetheless, it remains a good idea to include the form because it represents a convenient way to include your up-to-date contact information.
The Election Division also offered the chance to request “off hours” filing appointments, which presumably means outside of normal business hours. This is welcome development and represents a true commitment to assisting candidates during these frenetic times.
Finally, as suggested by the Elections Division’s email, this is a good time for federal, state, and legislative candidates to electronically collect nomination petition signatures through E-Qual. Of course, this presupposes there will renewed voter interest in using E-Qual that did not necessarily exist earlier in the campaign cycle when COVID-19 was not a factor. But even if there is renewed interest, keep in mind the limitations of the E-Qual system. The system functions by pulling a voter’s electronic signature from the MVD database and inserting that signature into the candidate’s petition. The system has no capability to snip a signature image from a voter registration form that was completed on paper. Thus, a candidate’s target audience for soliciting E-Qual signature support is limited to those electors who registered to vote through MVD (either online or at an MVD office). Some voters, not knowing of this limitation, can become quite frustrated when they attempt to sign an electronic petition but are mysteriously foreclosed from doing so.
In the end, mailing your petitions is not the optimal way to complete your candidacy. Being physically present at the filing office is the best way to ensure your paperwork has been timely received, that the correct number of signatures has been counted, that no petition sheets have been misplaced, that your supplemental signatures have been included, and that you leave with a receipt in hand. If you can be present for your filing appointment consistent with health and safety concerns for yourself and others around you, then do so. But health and safety come first.