Candidates head to court to defend petition challenges

Dillon Rosenblatt//April 23, 2020

Candidates head to court to defend petition challenges

Dillon Rosenblatt//April 23, 2020

Shawnna Bolick
Shawnna Bolick

Freshman lawmaker Shawnna Bolick has landed in court for using a P.O. box instead of her address on nominating petitions for her return bid to the state House. 

Bolick, a Phoenix Republican who represents Legislative District 20, is one of 25 candidates for state, legislative and federal offices who will be in court in the coming days to defend challenges to their petitions. Petitions were due April 20 and legal challenges to them are a routine part of the election process. 

Election attorney Kory Langhofer, who is defending Bolick from the claim she isn’t qualified to run because of the use of the P.O. box rather than her address, said it’s a weak argument, and he would know because he used it against Dan Saban, a candidate for Maricopa County sheriff in 2016, and lost. 

“We were on the other side then and the Arizona Supreme Court said [the P.O. box] is in the district so it’s fine,” Langhofer said. 

Bolick filled out her residential address as a P.O. box that’s in her district instead of her actual address, presumably since it’s protected because she’s married to Clint Bolick, an Arizona Supreme Court justice. 

The legal challenge, which is scheduled for an April 29 hearing, separately argues that 408 signatures are invalid because “they contain an improper or false calculator certification,” again relying on Bolick using her P.O. box as her residential address, and another 109 signatures are invalid for those signers not being in Bolick’s district. Republicans in that district need at least 455 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. 

In Saban’s case, the court said he didn’t strictly comply with the law, but he was close enough because his petition sheets didn’t cause any confusion or mislead any of the voters who signed them. . 

“I would bet heavily on Shawnna,” Langhofer said.

Bolick is joined by other incumbents who also must fend off  legal challenges. 

One is Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, a conservative Republican who’s routinely targeted as a beatable candidate. She faces a tough primary challenge against perennial candidate Wendy Rogers, and then that winner will take on Democrat Felicia French in the November election. 

Sylvia Allen
Sylvia Allen

In his challenge to Allen’s candidacy, lawyer and former state Elections Director Eric Spencer, warned that signatures the senator collected herself reveal a “potentially troubling pattern of fraud” that he wants to ask her about in court. 

The challenge states that Allen claims to have collected signatures around her vast northern Arizona district – in Flagstaff, Sedona, Cottonwood, Holbrook, Snowflake and Taylor – “on days when her public calendar proves that she was in the Phoenix metropolitan area attending to her official duties.” 

“These examples are potentially indicative of more widespread misconduct in Allen’s candidacy, which Plaintiff expects to further develop through Allen’s testimony at trial regarding whether she personally circulated all petition sheets bearing her name as circulator,” Spencer wrote. 

He added that besides the 42 signatures he found on six sheets she claimed to have circulated, “Allen may have fraudulently certified other petition sheets as well.” 

Allen filed 956 signatures for the office, which requires 484 minimum valid signatures. 

Spencer has a steep hill ahead of him, as he attempts to invalidate “at least” 528 signatures on a variety of grounds, including that circulators didn’t complete the fields on the back and that the signers aren’t registered to vote or don’t live in the district. 

He also alleges that one sheet is invalid because a felon who hasn’t had their rights restored circulated it. 

Allen told Yellow Sheet Report, a sister publication of the Arizona Capitol Times, she’s more irritated than concerned by the lawsuit, as she’s confident her signatures will stand. Volunteers who circulated her petition sheets signed them correctly, and she reviewed them personally, she said. 

“I’m irritated of course because it’s going to take time and money to challenge it,” Allen said. 

The plaintiff, William Chachkes, is a supporter of Rogers, she said, and Spencer is just throwing whatever arguments he can find. 

“It’s just part of the politics,” she said.

Corporation Commission

Five of the six Republicans running for Arizona Corporation Commission are facing challenges to their petitions, after a former commission staffer filed three challenges and a former superintendent of public instruction candidate, Bob Branch, filed three more. Commissioner Lea Marquez Peterson is the only safe candidate. 

Branch, a staunch conservative, first challenged Commissioner Boyd Dunn’s signatures on April 17 and has since filed challenges against Kim Owens and Sen. David Farnsworth, who terms out of the Legislature this year.

Branch told Yellow Sheet Report he would be bummed out if only Marquez Peterson qualifies on the GOP side for the three open seats, but the rules are the rules – and lawmakers should have changed those rules. 

“With the COVID virus, and the last month of not being able to collect signatures, I don’t think it’s just on [the candidates]. I think it’s on our state for not extending [the deadline],” Branch said. “That was shortsighted and done to protect people in office… and that’s not on me.”

Branch is alleging that 1,343 of Owens’ 7,360 signatures are invalid and 1,335 of Farnsworth’s 7,269 signatures are not valid. Republicans running for the commission need at least 6,663 valid signatures. 

Eric Gorsegner, a former commission policy analyst and chief of staff to former Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza, also filed a challenge to Dunn’s signatures arguing 1,103 of the 7,361 signatures he collected are invalid. 

Farnsworth, who had the fewest signatures of any commission candidate, is also facing a challenge from Gorsenger, who alleged that 2,156 of Farnsworth’s 7,296 signatures are invalid.

And Nick Myers faces a challenge from Gorsenger as well, who argues 2,191 of Myers’ 7,744 signatures are invalid. 

Before Gorsenger filed that additional challenge against Dunn, Dunn said he finds it suspicious that a Republican chose to challenge his signatures and not the signatures of candidates who have a “similar and even lower signature count.” 

Arizona Corporation Commissioner Boyd Dunn speaks with Arizona Power Supply chairman Don Brandt, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Arizona Corporation Commissioner Boyd Dunn. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Dunn said that after reviewing the first challenge, he isn’t worried. He said it “amazes” him that the challenge picked petition sheets which include former Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup, Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel (who is apparently registered under her married name Allister DeNitto) and Russell McCloud, a supervisor in Yuma County who is by law also listed as a defendant. 

“Half of my signatures came from the online E-Qual system with the Secretary of State,” Dunn said. “These are 100 percent verified.” 

He said he welcomes that “frivolous” lawsuit from attorney Tim La Sota. 

“It is a compliment that people like Tim are so afraid of my record of good governance and constituent services that he feels the only way to beat me is by means of a frivolous lawsuit,” he said. 

Gorsegner is also a financial backer of two of the Democrats running for the commission this year. He contributed $100 to Bill Mundell’s campaign and another $20 to Shea Stanfield. Gorsegner also contributed to Mundell’s 2016 commission race. None of the three Democratic candidates face challenges. 

The fifth commission candidate facing a challenge is Eric Sloan. 

Mary Halford, a Maricopa County voter, challenged his candidacy with the help of Democratic attorney Roy Herrera, arguing about 2,200 of his 8,017 signatures are invalid.

Most of the court hearings will be held the week of April 27, and candidates will either be removed from the ballot or continue campaigning for the primary on August 4. 

Yellow Sheet Report editor Hank Stephenson contributed to this story.