A complaint alleging that Secretary of State Michele Reagan broke the law when she decided not to issue a new election procedures manual for the 2016 cycle could lead to her removal from office, the attorney who filed it said.
Tom Ryan, an activist Chandler attorney who has made a name for himself targeting elected officials over allegations of improprieties or lawbreaking, filed a complaint against Reagan with Attorney General Mark Brnovich on Thursday. Ryan alleged that state law mandates that the secretary of state update and reissue a procedures manual for every election cycle, which Reagan did not do.
Reagan argues that the law doesn’t require a new manual every two years, and that it was sufficient for her to leave the 2014 manual in effect. But if Ryan is right, Reagan could be forced from office.
In his complaint, Ryan cited a statute stipulating that “a person charged with performance of any duty under any law relating to elections who knowingly refuses to perform such duty” is guilty of a class six felony. Arizona law prohibits anyone convicted of a felony from holding elected office.
“If she has violated the law and it’s a class six felony, she should be removed from office. This is not a minor thing,” Ryan told the Arizona Capitol Times.
Ryan asked Brnovich in his letter to demand that Reagan immediately comply with the law and “take all steps necessary to enforce” the law against her.
Mia Garcia, a spokeswoman for Brnovich, said the Attorney General’s Office is reviewing Ryan’s letter and declined to comment further.
The election procedures manual instructs county and local election officials on matters ranging from voter registration, early voting, polling places, voting equipment, ordering ballots and myriad other issues related to the conduct of elections in Arizona. The instructions in the manual have the force of law.
State law specifies that the secretary of state issue no later than 30 days “prior to each election,” and should be submitted to the AG and governor no fewer than 90 days “before each election.” The manual must be compiled in consultation with county election officials.
Former secretaries of state say they never viewed the requirement as optional, and county election officials say they can’t recall an election cycle in which a new manual wasn’t issued.
But Reagan’s office said a new manual was unnecessary for the 2016 cycle. Spokesman Matt Roberts said the office plans a top-to-bottom rewrite of the manual that will begin in 2017. For now, the office said, the 2014 manual is sufficient.
“Arizona law requires that there be an Election Procedures Manual in place before each election, not a new or revised manual. The 2014 Election Procedures Manual remains in place with full legal effect. This Manual represents the policies and procedures all of our local officials and poll workers have been trained to execute. Now is not a prudent time to have to retrain these workers,” Roberts said in an emailed statement.
Ryan countered in his complaint that statute says the manual “shall be” issued prior to each election.
County election officials submitted a slate of proposed changes to the secretary of state in mid-2015. The proposal included suggested changes to 13 of the manual’s 19 chapters.
Ryan has a history of targeting elected officials, and that history recently extended to Reagan. In May, he filed a complaint with Brnovich alleging that Reagan broke the law by failing to mail about 200,000 publicity pamphlets in a timely fashion for the May 17 special election, a problem that the secretary of state blamed on a vendor error. Brnovich agreed with Ryan’s conclusion, but said there was no remedy in the law.
At the time he filed the May complaint, Ryan said Reagan should either fire her elections director or face impeachment by the Legislature. His call for impeachment has gotten no traction at the Capitol.