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Court: Arizona’s Sloppy Ballot Signature Verification Guidance ‘Contradicts The Plain Language’ Of State Law


An Arizona court found on Friday that ballot signature verification guidance issued by the secretary of state’s office does “not have the force of law.”

In the ruling from Judge John Napper, the Superior Court of Yavapai County denied motions to dismiss a complaint filed by Restoring Integrity and Trust in Elections (RITE) against Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, a Democrat, that alleged Arizona’s Elections Procedures Manual (EPM) contains unlawful signature-match guidance. In Arizona, the EMP governs how elections are run in the state.

Under Arizona law, county recorders are required to compare the signature on a voter’s ballot envelope with the “signature of the elector on the elector’s registration record.” Arizona’s current EMP, however, instructs county recorders to “consult and review not only registration forms but also ‘additional known signatures from other official election documents in the voter’s registration record, such as signature rosters or early ballot [permanent early voting list] request forms,'” as the court noted. RITE alleged that this even included “signatures on prior early ballot envelopes.”

This guidance, the court indicated, is contrary to state law.

Fontes “argues the definition of ‘registration record’ is ambiguous … This argument fails because there is no ambiguity in the statute,” Napper’s ruling reads. “Pursuant to the statute, the recorder is to the signature on the envelope the voter’s prior registrations (the record). … If they match, then the vote is counted. If they do not, the voter is contacted to address any possible concerns. There is no ambiguity in this statute or the process.”

In other words, Fontes was likely instructing recorders to violate state law by mandating ballots be counted despite using a different signature match standard than what was legally required.

The court found that Arizona’s EPM creates a process that “contradicts the plain language” of state law by allowing signature-match with documents that have “nothing to do with the act of registering.”

“Therefore, this portion of the EPM and the instruction from the Secretary do ‘not have the force of law,'” Napper concluded.

“RITE will build on this victory to continue to fight in court for elections that are administered according to democratically enacted laws, not illegal partisan commands,” RITE President Derek Lyons said in a statement. “This is a huge victory toward securing the elections that Arizonans deserve, which are elections they can trust.”

The court has ordered all parties and their counsel to appear for a status conference on Sept. 19.

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