Secretary of State Adrian Fontes appears to be in a tug-of-war with Governor Katie Hobbs to determine who is worse at their job. It’s been well-documented that since she took office, Hobbs has been off to a rough start with high-profile staff exits, breaking the veto record after killing the bipartisan “Tamale Bill,” and alienating many Democrats by signing the Republican budget. But over the past eight months, Fontes has been working just as hard in the battle to see who’s more incompetent. Not only has he failed to perform the necessary voter list maintenance—leaving 14 Arizona counties in violation of Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act—but he rushed through a version of the Elections Procedures Manual (EPM) that is filled with unlawful provisions.
Now, Secretary of State Fontes has been dealt another major blow after a superior court judge ruled that he and his predecessor (now-Governor Katie Hobbs) enforced an EPM requirement that contained an unlawful voter signature verification process.
Currently in Arizona, early ballot voters are only required to prove their identity by signing the exterior of the envelope that contains their ballot. That process is already problematic enough, which is why the Free Enterprise Club has been a strong advocate for universal voter ID in elections. But Hobbs’ EPM, which has been upheld by Fontes, essentially rewrote state law to make invalid voting easier.
Under Arizona statute, an envelope signature is supposed to match the signature on the voter’s registration record. If it doesn’t, the country recorder must contact the voter, advise the voter of the inconsistent signature, and allow the voter to correct or the county to confirm the inconsistent signature. But Hobbs’ EPM instructs county recorders to validate early ballot affidavits if they determine the signature matches any election-related document available to them. This not only rewrites state law regarding signature verification for mail-in ballots, but it creates a process that invites dubious methods and opportunities for abuse during the signature review process.
That’s why the Free Enterprise Club filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Adrian Fontes after he failed to reject Hobbs’ EPM earlier this year. Fontes and a left-wing group called Mi Familia Vota (represented by Hillary Clinton Lawyer Marc Elias) responded by filing a motion to dismiss, claiming to the court that the term “registration record” was ambiguous and up for interpretation. Essentially, they were arguing that he could decide what constituted a valid signature record for the purpose of verifying a ballot signature. On top of that, Fontes petitioned the court to interpret the law to mean that other documents could be included in the definition of “registration record.”
But Judge John Napper saw through those arguments and rejected Fontes’ motion to dismiss earlier this month. He told Fontes that the statute is clear and unambiguous, and he stated that only a voter’s signature used to register to vote is valid.
While the case isn’t over yet (we anticipate that Fontes will appeal), this is a great development as we move forward. The judge ruled in our favor on all questions of law. And we will keep fighting this case all the way to the Supreme Court to ensure a final victory for the integrity of our elections.
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