Candidates In Local Elections Struggle To Gather Signatures In A Pandemic

Published: Friday, March 27, 2020 - 9:59am

Arizona has long allowed legislative and statewide candidates to use online signature-gathering to qualify for the ballot.

For the past four years, there’s also been a law on the books to allow would-be candidates in city, town and county elections to use the same online signature-gathering portal, known as E-QUAL.

But after the law was signed by Gov. Doug Ducey in 2016, the administration of former Secretary of State Michele Reagan never followed it. In the 2018 campaign cycle, that meant local candidates had to collect all their signatures the old-fashioned way, with boots on the ground going door-to-door.

To this day, E-QUAL still only works for legislative and statewide candidates. That’s become a problem now that Arizonans are isolating themselves to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

If there’s an order to shelter in place before the April 6 deadline to submit enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, it’d be impossible to gather signatures by going door-to-door.

Former state Rep. David Stevens sponsored the 2016 bill that opened up E-QUAL to local candidates. Now serving as the Cochise County Recorder, Stevens said candidates in southern Arizona are struggling to meet their signature requirements.

“Some people have complained to me personally that people won't open the doors and they won't sign so they can get to the ballot,” Stevens said.

Republican Rep. Mark Finchem issued a statement Monday demanding that the Secretary of State’s Office address the issue now to ensure the law is followed and candidates have access to the online portal in the final weeks of their signature-gathering efforts.

Finchem said he’s also been told by several county recorders that the Secretary of State’s Office has a “cavalier attitude” about following this particular law.

“Three years of non-compliance is enough, and the taxpayers who have already paid for this service deserve to understand why,” Finchem said. “The secretary of state must address it now.”

Sophia Solis, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, said the administration has been trying to address the issue and blamed Reagan’s administration for failing to do so in the first place.

”This legislation was supported by the prior administration, without securing the necessary funding or staffing to actually deliver it,” Solis wrote in an email. “And although the legislation was from 2016, when we came into office in 2019, no meaningful work had yet been done to deliver E-Qual access for local candidates.”

Solis said the office won’t begin testing the E-QUAL updates with local jurisdictions in early 2021, after the general election in November.

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