A judge on Sept. 14 allowed contested Green Party candidates in Arizona to remain on the November ballot, denying a request that they be kicked off because Republicans allegedly recruited them to siphon votes from Democrats.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Dean Fink found that former Republican lawmaker Steve May recruited several of the 11 disputed candidates in order to take votes away from Democrats.
“The court has no hesitation in finding that each of these candidates was recruited in bad faith with a purpose to confuse the voting public,” Fink wrote.
But the judge also found that the candidates got on the ballot legally and appear to have a legitimate desire to run, even if they were recruited with deceptive motives.
Fink ruled that he would have removed one candidate, Christopher Campbell, from the ballot if Campbell hadn’t already withdrawn. Campbell admitted in a recorded phone call that his motive was to take votes away from Democrats; the judge found that Campbell was recruited by the daughter of Republican Rep. Jim Weiers.
Campbell was the most important target because he’s running for the state Legislature in a competitive district where Democrats believe a Green candidate helped a Republican win a narrow election two years ago, said Paul Eckstein, an attorney for the Democratic Party.
Eckstein said he was pleased that Campbell would not appear on the ballot in District 10, where incumbent GOP Sen. Linda Gray faces a tough race against well-funded Democrat Justin Johnson.
“I was happy that the judge kept Campbell off the ballot. That will make a big difference in the Senate race in Legislative District 10,” said Eckstein, of the firm Perkins Coie Brown & Bain. “I hope people take the lesson that this is not conduct to be admired and encouraged, and it’s destructive of the electoral system.”
Fink also denied a request by Corporation Commission candidate Benjamin Pearcy to rescind his campaign withdrawal. Pearcy, who sought to rescind his termination almost immediately after it was filed on Sept. 13, will remain on the ballot because of the lateness of his withdrawal, but his votes will not be counted.
Pearcy signed a withdrawal statement on Sept. 12 from jail, where he was locked up on suspicion of disorderly conduct, threatening and an out-of-jurisdiction warrant, and faxed a statement to the Secretary of State’s Office the following day just moments after his withdrawal was officially filed.
In his statement to the Secretary of State’s Office, Pearcy said he signed his withdrawal while incarcerated and “under duress,” and without the benefit of legal counsel.
Fink ruled that there was no provision in state law under which a candidate can rescind a withdrawal, but said he would not order Maricopa County elections officials to remove his name from the ballot.
“Mr. Pearcy’s withdrawal came too late for his name to be removed from the ballot without great expense and without missing certain state and federal deadlines related to ballot printing and distribution,” Fink wrote in his ruling. “Although this is not the preferred outcome, to a certain extent we must rely on the electorate to research such issues before entering the polling place.”
The Green and Democratic parties labeled 11 of the Green Party’s nominees “sham candidates.” Most of those candidates have since withdrawn.
The candidates and their backers argued that they wanted to take votes from both major parties. But the judge found that the presence of a Green Party candidate would be more likely to siphon votes from Democrats than from Republicans.
Three disputed Green Party nominees remain candidates: Theodore Gomez, running for corporation commissioner; Anthony Goshorn, running for state Senate; and Thomas Meadows, running for state treasurer.
Goshorn said he’s pleased with the ruling, and if he’s elected he hopes to make it harder for political parties to bring a case against candidates like him.
“I don’t want to steal votes,” he said. “I want to earn them, and I’m going to work 10 times harder to do that.”
The disputed candidates got on the ballot using a provision in state law that applies only to the Green Party. It allows people in some cases to become a Green Party nominee with a single write-in vote. The Green Party last week challenged that provision in federal court, arguing that it’s unconstitutional because it requires the party to associate itself with people who don’t share its views.
A federal judge also declined to kick the candidates off the ballot but he kept the case alive to consider the constitutionality of the provision being challenged.
– The Associated Press and Arizona Capitol Times reporter Jeremy Duda contributed to this report