The Secretary of State’s Office agreed on July 24 to no longer enforce a law requiring candidates for statewide office or U.S. Senate to get signatures equal to at least one half of one percent of a party’s voter registration in at least three counties.
As a result of the stipulation, candidates may now collect signatures solely in one county, which for many will mean they no longer venture outside of Maricopa County, which contains the majority of Arizona’s population. The number of signatures candidates are required to collect to qualify for the ballot won’t change.
The stipulation settles a lawsuit brought in federal court by the Arizona Public Integrity Alliance, a nonprofit known for advocacy on behalf of Republican candidates. In the suit, the alliance alleged that the requirement unconstitutionally diluted the weight of some voters’ signatures, primarily in the state’s most populous counties.
The suit argued that the three-county requirement violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Attorney Kory Langhofer, who represents the alliance, said all voters’ signatures will now be treated as equal.
“I think a majority of campaigns shift their focus away from voters in populous counties in order to satisfy the county base requirement. And that’s an injury to every voter in a populous county,” said Langhofer, of the firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. “The 2016 election cycle will be the first one in Arizona state history where all signatures are given equal weight.”
Langhofer acknowledged that most candidates already got the bulk of their signatures from Maricopa County, and that the elimination of the county-based requirements is likely to reinforce that tendency. But he said candidates will still campaign in rural counties, meaning less populous areas won’t be ignored in future campaigns.
“I think any candidate who never left Pima County or Maricopa County would not be taken seriously by the press or by voters,” Langhofer said. “If people are spending time there and campaigning there and trying to get support there, but they’re not getting signatures there, that wouldn’t distress me.”
Secretary of State Ken Bennett had argued that the under the three-county requirement, candidates still relied heavily on signatures from Maricopa and other populous counties. For example, for the 2014 signature requirements, a statewide Republican candidate needed at least 5,651 signatures to get on the ballot. Up to 3,553 could come from Maricopa County, while a candidate could collect just 88 from Coconino County, 20 from Santa Cruz County or six from Greenlee County.
The Secretary of State’s Office did not immediately comment on the stipulation.