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Bill to require Secretary of State to issue elections manual goes to Ducey

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It’s been more than four years since Arizona updated its election procedures manual, a comprehensive guide for how local officials must conduct elections.

Arizona senators voted Monday to ensure another year doesn’t go by without a new one.

HB2238, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, would require the secretary of state to issue updated manuals every election cycle.

That was common practice in Arizona before Republican Michele Reagan took office in 2015.

Reagan didn’t compile a new manual for the 2016 election, perhaps the first time in decades the secretary’s office failed to update instructions for county and local election officials. In 2018, the updated manual Reagan submitted to Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Gov. Doug Ducey for their review was rejected following complaints from county recorders, who identified multiple errors in the document.

That means local election officials are still using a guide produced in 2014 by former Secretary of State Ken Bennett.

Under Townsend’s proposal, the secretary of state would have until October 1 of each odd-numbered year – the year before traditional primary and general elections are held each fall – to submit updated election manuals. The governor and attorney general would then have two months to review the document before it must be released to local election officials by December 31 the same year.

That rapidly advances the current timeline for when the manual must be submitted and approved for use: Currently the manual must be submitted no fewer than 90 days before an election, and must be distributed no less than 30 days before each election – hardly enough time to implement any new guidelines prescribed in the manual.

Townsend’s proposal also clears up any ambiguity about how often the manual must be updated.

In 2016, Brnovich declined to investigate Reagan’s failure to update the manual, citing various interpretations of state statute requiring new manuals. While previous secretaries issued new manuals each election cycle, it could be argued that statute requires a new manual for each individual election.

Reagan maintained that the law only required a manual to be in place before each election, even if it’s an old draft.

HB2238 was unanimously approved by both chambers of the Legislature, and now awaits Ducey’s signature to become law. The measure is supported by Katie Hobbs, a Democrat elected as the new secretary of state in November.

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