The April 6, 2020 deadline is fast approaching for candidates to file their nomination petition signatures. The petition filing deadline is statutory and cannot be moved by the filing office. If you were counting on the Arizona Legislature moving the filing deadline in light of the COVID-19 crisis, or relaxing the required number of signatures, your wish did not come to fruition. The Legislature adjourned through April 13, and by then the filing deadline will have already passed.
If you are nervous or uncertain about what comes next, here are 10 tips to consider over the next few weeks.
- Confirm the filing officer’s submission procedures. For federal, statewide, and legislative candidates, in-person appointments or filings are no longer accepted on the 7th Floor of the State Executive Tower. Instead, nomination petitions must be: 1) mailed and received by the Secretary of State by the filing deadline (not recommended), or 2) physically filed in a drop box located near the security screening station on the 1st Floor of the State Executive Tower (somewhat recommended). UPDATED: the Attorney General just issued an opinion on March 24 concluding that “[n]either providing a drop box in the lobby of the Executive Tower nor accepting filings by mail enables the candidate to obtain a contemporaneous receipt” required under Arizona law, which renders these filing methods presumptively unlawful if standing alone. Expect the Secretary of State’s office to issue new guidance (yet again) about how to transact business with the 7th Floor and obtain a contemporaneous receipt for filing petitions. For candidates filing in Maricopa County, filing is generally by appointment only at the MCTEC (510 S. Third Avenue, Phoenix) and Mesa (222 E. Javelina, Mesa) locations of the Maricopa County Recorder’s office. Check with your local filing office for more information, and do not assume it will be business as usual.
- Take photos and video to prove your filing at a drop box. The Secretary of State’s announcement indicated that you will receive a receipt once your “filing has been processed,” but that does not necessarily mean you will receive confirmation when your petitions have been “received.” Contact the office to confirm receipt in writing immediately after filing. UPDATED: Expect the Secretary’s office to revise its filing procedures to enable candidates to receive a contemporaneous receipt, which will render the need to take photos/videos moot.
- Make photocopies of everything – preferably digital images in color. If your petitions somehow get misplaced, you might not have any recourse unless you can prove what you filed. Consider also uploading all your color petitions to an FTP site and having the link ready to email the filing officer in case there is a discrepancy. Finally, consider sequentially page-numbering your petitions so the filing officer can confirm they received X number of your petition sheets.
- If you mail your petitions, get a tracking number. Even the Secretary of State’s office still has the ability to sign for packages, so seek confirmation that your package was actually delivered. UPDATED: do not mail your petitions unless absolutely necessary.
- Verify your own signatures. The public computer terminals are still open at MCTEC in downtown Phoenix to verify signatures. (Contact other county recorders for their availability as well). Political party data (the Republican Party’s GOP Data Center or Democratic Party’s VAN) is also available, but it might not be as current as official county recorder data. Ensure your petition signers are registered voters (in the county and in the district), are registered with the correct political party (your own party, independents, party not designated (PNDs), or non-recognized parties like Green Party), and that the petition signature reasonably matches the registration signature.
- Identify missing information from your petition sheets. If lawful, consider completing the missing information yourself prior to filing. In contrast to an initiative or referendum petition, a petition signer’s printed name, address, or date of signature implicitly may be printed by someone other than the petition signer. Compare A.R.S. § 16-321(C)-(D) with A.R.S. § 19-112(A). You may not, however, retroactively complete the petition signer’s signature or the circulator’s signature. Nor are you permitted to complete a blank circulator affidavit with your own information if you did not personally circulate that petition. Finally, it would be unwise to complete a blank date by assuming it was collected the same day as other signatures on the petition sheet; the circulator should have personal knowledge it was collected on that particular date. If necessary, the circulator should consider contacting the petition signer himself/herself to complete the missing information (assuming it is safe to do so).
- Do not count on E-Qual to save you. Some voters are reticent to use E-Qual because it requires personal information (date of birth and driver’s license number) to be inputted into the Secretary of State’s website. Moreover, E-Qual only contains the digital signatures of persons who registered to vote through an MVD office (in-person or online). Voters who registered the old-fashioned way with a paper form are not technologically capable of participating in E-Qual.
- File a public records request for opponents’ petitions. If you are monitoring the filing officer’s website (or your opponent’s social media feeds), you will know when they file. Request their petitions and evaluate whether a legal challenge is possible. (This blog will cover the various deficiency types over the coming days).
- File a “reverse” public records request. One way to gauge whether your petitions might be challenged in court is to determine whether anyone has requested your petitions. (The submission of a public records request is itself a public record). If no one has requested your petitions by early April, you can begin to sleep easy. If your petitions have been requested multiple times, then the sharks are probably circling.
- Understand how legal challenges will work in light of court closures. On March 23rd, the Maricopa County Superior Court issued an order generally suspending in-person court proceedings. The court carved out an exception for “preliminary injunctions” and declared “that orders to appear in any election challenge will issue and a hearing will be held,” but it is unclear what those hearings will look like. Other Superior Courts might be issuing similar orders. If you’ll need voter registration records to mount or defend a challenge, request those records now. If you might need witnesses, talk to those witnesses now and prepare them for the prospect of video or telephonic testimony. This blog will announce more specifics about Maricopa County courtroom procedures in the coming days, but start thinking about your potential trial strategy now.
This article should not be considered legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice or guidance, please contact an experienced attorney.