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Arizona Libertarian Party v. Reagan

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 27, 2016

Arizona Libertarian Party, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Michele Reagan, Defendant.

          ORDER

          David G. Campbell, United States District Judge

         On April 12, 2016, Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of A.R.S. §§ 16-321 and 16-322, as amended in 2015 by H.B. 2608. Doc. 1. On May 12, 2016, Plaintiffs filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. Doc. 10. The Court ordered expedited briefing and held a hearing for May 24, 2016. Doc. 11. For the following reasons, the Court will deny Plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunctive relief.

         I. Background.

         Plaintiffs are the Arizona Libertarian Party (“AZLP”) and Michael Kielsky, the party’s chairman and a candidate for public office. Defendant Michele Reagan is the Arizona Secretary of State (“the Secretary”), the state officer responsible for administering elections in Arizona. Plaintiffs seek to enjoin the enforcement of certain portions of A.R.S. §§ 16-321 and 16-322, as amended in 2015 by H.B. 2608.

         In Arizona, a candidate who wishes to have her name printed on a primary ballot must comply with certain statutory requirements. One requirement is that the candidate file a valid nomination petition with the Secretary by a specified deadline. A.R.S. § 16-314(A). The petition must contain a minimum number of signatures from the relevant jurisdiction. See A.R.S. § 16-322(A). The required number of signatures varies depending on the office sought. Id. The purpose of the signature requirement is “to ensure that candidates have ‘adequate support from eligible voters to warrant being placed on the ballot.’” Jenkins v. Hale, 190 P.3d 175, 176, ¶ 6 (Ariz.Ct.App. 2008) (quoting Lubin v. Thomas, 144 P.3d 510, 512, ¶ 15 (Ariz. 2006)).

         On March 31, 2015, the Arizona Legislature passed H.B. 2608. Doc. 12 at 3. The Governor signed the bill into law on April 13, 2015, and it took effect on July 3, 2015. Id. H.B. 2608 made several changes to Arizona’s election statutes that are relevant here.

         H.B. 2608 changed the pool of persons from which candidates affiliated with a political party could collect signatures for a nomination petition. Under the old system, a candidate could collect signatures from electors who were qualified to vote in the candidate’s primary election. See 2015 Ariz. Sess. Laws Ch. 293, §§ 2-3 (H.B. 2608). If a candidate’s party chose to hold an open primary, the candidate could collect signatures from registered party members, registered independents, and unaffiliated voters. If a candidate’s party chose to hold a closed primary, the candidate could collect signatures only from registered party members. After H.B. 2608, a candidate can collect signatures from “qualified signers, ” defined as (1) a registered member of the candidate’s party, (2) a registered member of a political party that is not entitled to continued representation on the ballot under A.R.S. § 16-804, or (3) a voter who is registered as independent or having no party preference. A.R.S. §§ 16-321(F), 16-322(A).

         In addition, candidates must now obtain the number of signatures equal to a certain percentage of qualified signers in the relevant jurisdiction, rather than a percentage of qualified electors who were qualified to vote in the candidate’s primary election. A.R.S. § 16-322(A). For most offices, H.B. 2608 lowered the percentage of signatures of qualified signers the candidate must collect. See 2015 Ariz. Sess. Laws Ch. 293, § 3 (H.B. 2608).

         The deadline by which candidates must submit nomination petitions this year is June 1, 2016. Doc. 10 at 6. The deadline by which candidates must file as write-in candidates is July 21, 2016. Id. The primary election is scheduled for August 30, 2016. Id. at 5. The AZLP will have a closed primary this year - only its registered members may vote. Doc. 12-1 at 3, ¶ 11.

         Plaintiffs ask the Court to require the Secretary to place their candidates on the primary election ballot if, by the June 1, 2016 deadline, they submit nomination petitions containing the number of signatures that Sections 16-321 and 16-322 required before their amendment in 2015. Doc. 5 at 5. Plaintiffs also ask the Court to require the Secretary “to place their primary election write-in candidates on the general election ballot pursuant to Section 16-645(E) if the candidates receive at least as many votes in the primary election as the number of signatures” that would have been required before the enactment of H.B. 2608. Id. at 6.

         II. Laches.

         “Laches - unreasonable and prejudicial delay - requires denial of injunctive relief, including preliminary relief.” Ariz. Pub. Integrity All. Inc. v. Bennett, No. CV-14-01044-PHX-NVW, 2014 WL 3715130, at *2 (D. Ariz. June 23, 2014). Over the last 25 years, the Arizona Supreme Court has repeatedly cautioned that litigants should bring election challenges in a timely manner or have their requests for relief denied on the basis of laches. See Lubin, 144 P.3d at 511-12, ¶¶ 10-11 (“We caution, however, that a party’s failure to diligently prosecute an election appeal may in future cases result in a dismissal for laches.”); Sotomayor v. Burns, 13 P.3d 1198, 1200, ¶ 9 (Ariz. 2000) (“We repeat our caution that litigants and lawyers in election cases must be keenly aware of the need to bring such cases with all deliberate speed or else the quality of judicial decision making is seriously compromised.”) (quotation marks and citation omitted); Harris v. Purcell, 973 P.2d 1166, 1169, ¶ 15 (Ariz. 1998) (“In election matters, time is of the essence because disputes concerning election and petition issues must be initiated and resolved, allowing time for the preparation and printing of absentee voting ballots.”) (citations omitted); Mathieu v. Mahoney, 851 P.2d 81, 85 (Ariz. 1993) (“Special interest groups and the lawyers who represent them are aware of the difficult time pressures involved in ballot litigation. They have an affirmative duty to bring their challenges as early as practicable.”); Kromko v. Super. Ct. In & For Cty. of Maricopa, 811 P.2d 12, 18 (Ariz. 1991) (“Moreover, disputes concerning election and petition matters must be initiated and heard in time to prepare the ballots for absentee voting to avoid rendering an action moot.”).

         Laches applies when there is both unreasonable delay and prejudice. Sotomayor, 13 P.3d at 1200, ¶ 8 (citation omitted). “In the context of election matters, the laches doctrine seeks to prevent dilatory conduct and will bar a claim if a party’s unreasonable delay prejudices the opposing party or the administration of justice.” Ariz. Pub. Integrity All., 2014 WL 3715130, at *2 (citations omitted). To determine whether delay was unreasonable, a court considers the justification for the delay, the extent of the plaintiff’s advance knowledge of the basis for the challenge, and whether the plaintiff exercised diligence in preparing and advancing his case. Harris, 973 P.2d at 1169-70, ¶¶ 16-18.

         To determine whether delay has prejudiced a defendant, a court considers only prejudice that stems from the plaintiff’s delay in bringing suit, not difficulties caused by the fact of having been sued. Shouse v. Pierce Cty., 559 F.2d 1142, 1147 (9th Cir. 1977). Defendants are entitled to reasonable time to consider and develop their case, McCarthy Western Constructors, Inc. v. Phoenix Resort Corp., 821 P.2d 181, 187 (Ariz.Ct.App. 1991), including “the opportunity to ...


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