Arizona Free Enterprise Club Sues State over Early Ballot Signature Verification Process

The Arizona Free Enterprise Club filed a lawsuit against Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes (D) Monday, alleging that the early ballot signature verification process outlined in the Elections Procedures Manual (EPM) violates state law.

“The signature presented on an early ballot affidavit is the fulcrum on which the integrity of that ballot pivots; it is the only means by which the county recorder can verify that a person casting an early ballot by mail is, in fact, a duly qualified elector,” according to the lawsuit. “And given the centrality of early ballots to elections in this state, signature verification is also foundational to the overall integrity of Arizona’s elections.”

The Arizona Sun Times reached out to the AFEC for an additional comment but did not hear back before publishing time.

According to the complaint, the issue at hand involves Arizona Revised Statute (ARS) § 16-550(A), which instructs on the curing process for an early ballot. Under the law, when a county recorder or their staff receives an early ballot, they must compare the signature on the ballot affidavit to one on “the elector’s registration record.” If the signatures appear inconsistent, it is the responsibility of the recorder’s office to contact the voter so they can correct the signature and the county can confirm it is correct.

The complaint argues that the problem is that the EPM allows recorders to reference materials beyond what is allocated by law when verifying signatures. According to the EPM, drafted by former Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) in 2019, county recorders can use other documents from the voter’s record, like signature rosters or early ballot request forms, to compare the signature with.

The plaintiffs argued that the EPM could be interpreted to allow county recorders to validate affidavit signatures with “any signature in any election-related document,” such as early ballot envelopes submitted in a prior election. The plaintiffs argue that these signatures go beyond the voter’s “registration record” as outlined under state law.

To explain, the plaintiffs stated that the “natural understanding” of a voter’s record should only consist of federal and state registration forms and a signed certification “attesting to the accuracy of the information provided.” Therefore, the AFEC argued that the EPM classifying additional documents as part of a voter’s registration record could have adverse effects.

“In other words, the EPM’s extra-statutory, unreasonable interpretation of a ‘registration record’ improperly and unreliably expands the corpus of signatures to which an early ballot affidavit signature may be compared. This continuous dilution of the pool of signature specimens increases the probability of a false positive—i.e., an erroneous determination that an early ballot affidavit signature is valid because it bears a minimally sufficient resemblance to the signature on a historical early ballot affidavit, even though it is dissimilar to the signature in the voter’s actual registration.”

Furthermore, the plaintiffs argued that any EPM provisions that extend beyond what is allowed under state law are invalid and carry “no legal force or effect.” Therefore, the AFEC asked the court to grant an injunction preventing the Secretary of State from enforcing the EPM’s signature verification provisions as they are currently written.

In response, a spokesperson for the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office told The Sun Times via email that the office has yet to be officially served the lawsuit. Moreover, he mentioned that Fontes’s administration is currently working on the state’s next EPM.

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Neil Jones is a reporter for The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Neil on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Adrian Fontes” by Adrian Fontes for Arizona Secretary of State. Background Photo “Courtroom” by Carol M. Highsmith.


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