Arizona GOP sues Fontes over Election Procedures Manual

A new group of Republicans is suing
Arizona’s Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, a Democrat, over his new
Election Procedures Manual, which they say is “designed to undermine
election integrity.”

The suit
from the state, national and Yavapai County branches of the Republican
Party comes just a little over a week after Senate President Warren
Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma, both Republicans, also sued Fontes over the Election Procedures Manual, commonly referred to as the EPM. 

Every other year, the Arizona
Secretary of State is tasked with putting out an updated version of the
EPM, which outlines procedures and rules by which county elections
officials should conduct elections in the state. 

The final version of Fontes’ EPM has already been approved by Gov. Katie Hobbs and Attorney General Kris Mayes, both Democrats.

But the Republicans have a multitude
of problems with the manual, and they contend that either the entire
EPM, or at least parts of it, are illegal and should be revoked. “Adrian Fontes’ Election
Procedure Manual (EPM) is designed to undermine election integrity in
Arizona, and Republicans are suing him to protect Arizona elections,”
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a Feb. 9
statement. 

“The new EPM weakens safeguards against non-citizen voting
during a time of unprecedented illegal immigration on Arizona’s southern
border, unlawfully limits the ability to challenge early ballots, and
violates numerous provisions of Arizona law meant to protect election
integrity. The RNC and AZGOP have a long history of collaborating in the
courtroom to protect Arizona elections from left-wing attacks – we are
proud to hold Arizona Democrats accountable and look forward to seeing
them in court.” 

JP Martin, a spokesperson for Fontes,
told the Arizona Mirror that the Secretary of State’s Office does not
comment on pending litigation. 

In the initial filing of the suit in
Maricopa County Superior Court, RNC attorney Christopher Murray alleges
that the entire EPM is unlawful because Fontes only allowed public
comment on the draft of the manual for 15 days after it was published on
Aug. 1, 2023. Murray argued that, under the rules of the state’s
Administrative Procedure Act, the public should have had 30 days to
comment on the manual. Because that didn’t happen, the entire document
is void, the RNC claims. 

The RNC and Arizona Republican Party
also take issue with changes to the manual that occurred between draft
publication and final publication — during the time in which Hobbs and
Mayes submitted edits to the manual — that were never submitted to the
public for comment. 

When Republicans found out about the
15-day window for public comments, they reached out to Fontes asking for
more time, saying the time allowed “unnecessarily restrictive” and
asked Fontes to extend it. He denied the request. 

The GOP also pointed to several
specific changes within the new version of the manual that it claims go
against Arizona law. Those include: 

  • changes
    to give a registered voter who identified themselves as a noncitizen in
    a juror questionnaire a notice before revoking their voter
    registration; 
  • permitting federal only voters who haven’t proven their citizenship to vote in presidential elections; 
  • allowing
    those same federal only voters to receive a ballot by mail; guidance to
    county recorders saying that they have no obligation to check
    government databases to check if the information for newly registered
    voters aligns with information in those databases; 
  • the restriction of voter signatures from public view for certain purposes; 
  • the ability of voters to have early ballots sent to addresses outside of Arizona; 
  • and restrictions on the timeline for challenging ballots. 

If the judge in the case decides
against voiding the entire EPM, the GOP is asking for each of the rules
within it that the party says conflict with Arizona law to be voided
instead. 

“We will not tolerate Arizona
Democrats’ and Adrian Fontes’ continued assault on Arizona’s election
law and procedures,” newly elected AZGOP Chairwoman Gina Swoboda said in
the statement. “Adrian Fontes intentionally released this new Election
Procedures Manual at the last second during the holidays because he knew
that it would wither under scrutiny and invite legal challenges. Fontes
and his allies are not legislators — they have no right to insert their
preferred far-left policies into the guidance for Arizona elections.
This is a blatant attempt to rewrite election law and hollow out basic
safeguards that are designed to preserve election integrity in our
state’s elections. That’s why the Arizona GOP and RNC and our fellow
Republican partners are suing Fontes and we will win.” 

The suit from Toma and Petersen
focused on changes that say county supervisors don’t have the authority
to reject election results, change vote totals or delay the
certification of results, as well as what they see as a delay in
implementing a 2021 law that would require county recorders to take
voters off the vote-by-mail list if the voters doesn’t use a mail-in
ballot for two election cycles in a row. Toma and Petersen also disputed
the EPM’s guidelines for how and when county recorders should remove
noncitizens from their rolls.