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Arizona Green Party v. Bennett

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 16, 2014

Arizona Green Party, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Ken Bennett, Defendant

Page 741

For Arizona Green Party, Claudia Ellquist, Plaintiffs: Robert E Barnes, LEAD ATTORNEY, Barnes Law LLP, Los Angeles, CA.

For Ken Bennett, in his official capacity as Secretary of the State of Arizona, Defendant: Michele Lee Forney, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of the Attorney General, Phoenix, AZ.

Page 742

ORDER

Neil V. Wake, United States District Judge.

Plaintiffs Arizona Green Party and Claudia Ellquist filed a complaint against Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett challenging the constitutionality of an Arizona election statute (Doc. 1). The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment (Docs. 15 and 17) and orally argued their motions on May 7, 2014. For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' motion will be denied and Defendant's motion granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs want the Green Party on the ballot for the 2014 election. As explained below, state election law requires the Green Party to have filed a new party petition by February 27, 2014, 180 days before the primary election. On February 25, 2014, Plaintiffs sued the Secretary, alleging that A.R.S. § 16-803, mandating the February deadline, is unconstitutional. Specifically, they alleged, " The challenged statute represents a direct restraint on Plaintiffs' political speech and severely burdens the political speech, political association rights, and voting rights of Plaintiffs, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983."

In Arizona, the Green Party last qualified for ballot recognition in 2010. Doc. 16 ¶ 23. At the time, state law required political parties to meet one of two statutory obligations in each successive election cycle to remain on the ballot: Registered party members must (1) cast 5 percent of the total votes cast for governor or presidential electors or (2) compose two-thirds of 1 percent of the total registered electors in the jurisdiction. A.R.S. § 16-804(A)--(B). In 2011, the Arizona legislature amended its election law to entitle newly qualified parties to representation on the ballot " through the next two regularly scheduled general elections for federal office immediately following recognition . . . ." Id. § 16-801(B). The Secretary agreed to apply amended A.R.S. § 16-801 to the Green Party and extended ballot representation through the 2012 election cycle based on its 2010 recognition.

In the 2010 gubernatorial election, however, Green Party members failed to cast 5 percent of the total votes. Similarly, they failed to establish enough registered voters as of October 1, 2013, to remain on the ballot for the 2014 election cycle. Doc. 16 ¶ ¶ 26-27. Thus, on November 20, 2013, the Secretary announced that the Party had lost its recognized status. Id. ¶ 28. As in 2010, it would have to qualify as a new political party for purposes of the 2014 election cycle.

To qualify, the Green Party needed to file a petition with the Secretary meeting statutory requirements. A.R.S. § 16-801(A) requires the petition to bear the signatures " of qualified electors equal to not less than one and one-third per cent of the total votes cast for governor at the last preceding general election at which a governor was elected." Section 16-803(A) requires the parties to file the petition with the Secretary " not less than one hundred eighty days before the primary election for which the party seeks recognition." Thus, the Green Party's petition needed to include 23,401 signatures and be submitted to the Secretary by February 27, 2014. The Party never filed such a petition.

In 2011 and 2012, the state legislature also amended the procedure for the Secretary

Page 743

and the county recorders with respect to new party recognition. Doc. 16 ¶ 5. Prior to the amendments, new parties filed petitions with each county. The pre-amended statute required each county recorder to verify all the signatures submitted within 30 days. Id. ¶ 8. Once verified, the petitions were submitted to the Secretary at least 140 days prior to the primary for certification. Id. ¶ 6.

The 2011 and 2012 amendments increased the burden on the Secretary and decreased the burden on individual counties. Id. ¶ 5. Section 16-803 now requires the Secretary to do the following within seven business days of receiving new party petitions:

a. Determine the county of the majority of the signers for each sheet, identify the county of majority, eliminate all signatures from counties other than the majority county, and group all of [the] signature sheets by county.
b. Remove all signatures from eligibility for verification where the signature is missing, the residence address or description of residence location is missing, or where the date on which the petitioner signed is missing.
c. Count the number of signatures for verification on the remaining petition sheets and note the number of eligible signatures on each sheet above the majority county designation.
d. Number the remaining petition sheets in consecutive order.
e. Count all remaining petition sheets and signatures not previously removed and issue a receipt to the applicant of this total number eligible for verification. If the number of eligible signatures is ...

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