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.
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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.