A bill that unanimously sailed through the Arizona House and Senate will remove some potential hurdles in collecting petition signatures for congressional or legislative office in the 2020 cycle in the event of uncertainty regarding the district boundaries to be drawn by the Independent Redistricting Commission. However, it is important to remember that legislative candidates must still reside in their new legislative district at the time of filing their petition signatures—despite the newly-enhanced flexibility in collecting those signatures.
SB1107, which will almost certainly be signed into law, amends A.R.S. § 16-322(D) by specifying that—regardless what happens with state redistricting—the basis for calculating the requisite number of nomination petition signatures will be based on January 2, 2022 voter registration figures. This will provide a welcome degree of certainty for candidates running this election cycle.
Under the prior law, in the unlikely event district boundaries are finalized between January 2, 2022 (the presumptive deadline for establishing petition signature thresholds) and April 4, 2022 (the filing deadline for nomination petitions), the signature threshold for a particular office would be based on the voter registration figures in the new district, once established. Thus, in order to acquire the necessary data to make signature calculations, county recorders would need to wait for new district boundaries to be finalized, update the voter registration system to reflect the new boundaries, compile voter registration statistics in the new districts, and report those numbers to the Secretary of State. Only then would candidates definitively know how many signatures to collect for their particular office. That could be a matter of mere weeks or days before the filing deadline, which might not be enough time to adjust and collect additional signatures.
SB1107 prevents that nightmare scenario. Even if new redistricting boundaries come late in the game, the petition signature threshold automatically will be based on January 2, 2020 voter registration figures. In other words, if new district boundaries are not yet in effect on January 2nd, the petition signature threshold will be based on the voter registration figures in the candidate’s then-existing district as of that date. So for example, if several candidates are currently running for “CD2,” they can rely on the signature threshold that will be calculated by the Secretary of State for CD2 in early January, despite the fact the district number and boundaries will surely change thereafter.
Moreover, SB1107 continues the decennial tradition of passing session law that expressly states that petition signatures collected in both the new and old districts will be considered valid, alleviating yet another uncertainty for candidates.
However, a word of caution is necessary regarding legislative candidates’ residency. A.R.S. § 16-311(A) provides that “a [legislative] candidate for public office shall be a qualified elector at the time of filing and shall reside in the county, district or precinct that the person proposes to represent.” This statutory provision is not affected by SB1107. Although the bill mandates that “the secretary of state shall accept as a valid filing the nomination paper . . . that designate[s] a district for that person’s candidacy” in either the old or new district, that provision only governs what the Secretary of State “shall accept.” The Secretary reviews nomination papers for completeness, but the Secretary does not review nomination papers for substantive validity, does not verify the candidate’s residency, and does not ensure the candidate complies with A.R.S. § 16-311(A). So while the Secretary cannot reject a nomination paper based on whether the new or old legislative district has been printed on the nomination paper, a voter may still challenge a legislative candidate in court for failure to reside in the new legislative district at the time of filing.
Of course, all of this could be moot since the Independent Redistricting Commission has already committed to finalizing the congressional and legislative maps before January 2, 2022. SB1107 would not be quite as necessary if all goes to plan.
The takeaway for congressional candidates: breathe easy this cycle. The takeaway for legislative candidates: collect your petition signatures with confidence, but have your real estate agent on standby.