Bahney Dedolph v. Lois Jean McDermott – 7/27/2012

August 7, 2012

Arizona Supreme Court Holds that A.R.S. § 16-351(A) Allows Nomination Challenges to be Filed Within Ten Business Days After the Petition Filing Deadline.

In 1957, Lois Jean McDermott (“McDermott”) married Jerry Cheuvront and changed her name to Louis Jen Cheuvront.  The next year, the couple moved into the area that is now District 24, where they lived until the 1970s.  In the mid-1970s, McDermott moved out of District 24. 

In 1989, McDermott remarried and changed her legal surname from Cheuvront to McDermott.  McDermott subsequently relocated to District 24, where she decided to run for precinct committeewoman.  Because she was known as Jean Cheuvront when she previously lived in the district, she identified herself as “Jean Cheuvront McDermott on the petition forms she circulated for her nomination.  A short time later, Bahney Dedolph filed an action in superior court seeking to disqualify McDermott because her nomination paper stated that she desired to appear on the ballot as “Cheuvront-McDermott, Jean” when her legal surname is McDermott.  McDermott responded by arguing that Dedolph’s challenge was untimely and that A.R.S. § 16-311(G) allowed her to identify herself as “Cheuvront-McDermott” as a nickname.  Following an evidentiary hearing, the superior court ruled that Dedolph’s challenge was timely and that McDermott had not complied with § 16-311(G).  McDermott filed a timely appeal with the Arizona Supreme Court.

On appeal, the Court held that Dedolph’s challenge was indeed timely.  A.R.S. § 16-351(A) provides that “[a]ny elector filing any court action challenging the nomination of a candidate . . . shall do so no later than 5:00 p.m. of the tenth day, excluding Saturday, Sunday and other legal holidays, after the last day for filing nomination papers and petitions.”  The Court rejected McDermott’s contention that, under this statute, challenges must be filed within ten calendar days after the petition filing deadline, unless the tenth day falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or other legal holidays.  The Court explained that McDermott’s interpretation would render the phrase “excluding Saturday, Sunday, and other legal holidays” superfluous because even without that language, if the deadline falls on one of the identified days, a challenge filed on the next business day would be timely.   See Bohart v. Hannah, 213 Ariz. 480, 482 n.2 ¶ 7, 143 P.3d 1021, 1023 n.2 (2006) (noting that under § 16-351(A), if five calendar-day deadline falls on Saturday, Sunday, or a holiday, a notice of appeal is timely when filed on the next business day).  Because Dedolph filed her challenge by 5:00 p.m. on the tenth business day after the petition filing deadline, the Court concluded that the challenge was timely. 

The Court nevertheless held that the superior court erred in striking McDermott from the ballot because McDermott had substantially complied with A.R.S. § 16-311(A).  Under Arizona law, a person seeking to appear on the ballot for a partisan primary election must file a nomination paper that identifies, among other things, “the exact manner in which the person desires to have the person’s name printed on the official ballot pursuant to subsection G.”  A.R.S. § 16-311(A).  Subsection G provides that the person’s name “shall be limited to the candidate’s surname and given name or names.”  A.R.S. § 16-311(G).  According to the statute, “[n]icknames are permissible, but in no event shall nicknames, abbreviated versions or initials of given names suggest a reference to professional, fraternal, religious or military titles.”   Id.  “A person who does not file a timely nomination paper that complies with [§ 16-311] is not eligible to have the person’s name printed on the official ballot for that office.”  Id. § 16-311(H).  It is well settled, however, that Arizona courts will “not remove candidates from the ballot for mere technical departures” from the statutorily required forms.  Bee v. Day, 218 Ariz. 505, 507 ¶¶ 9-10, 189 P.3d 1078, 1080 (2008).

In this case, the Supreme Court held that McDermott did not technically comply with § 16-311(G) because her surname did not appear first on the petition as plainly required.  According to the Court, if McDermott wanted the ballot to reflect that she is also known as Cheuvront, she should have listed her name in the nomination paper as “McDermott, Jean Cheuvront” rather than “Cheuvront-McDermott, Jean.”  However, because nothing in the record suggested that McDermott’s technical violation would cause electors signing her nomination petition to be confused or misled about her identity, the Court held that McDermott had substantially complied with the requirements in § 16-311(G).   The Court nevertheless ordered that McDermott’s name be printed on the primary ballot as “McDermott, Jean Cheuvront” as required by the statute.

Vice Chief Justice Bales authored the opinion; Chief Justice Berch and Justice Brutinel concurred.