Griffith v. Baca – 8/17/2010

August 25, 2010

Arizona Supreme Court Holds That: (1) an Elector Validly Reregistered to Vote By Crossing Out the Address Listed on a Prior Registration Form and Resubmitting the Form Bearing the Same Signature and (2) an Elector Who Has Submitted an Early Ballot in One Precinct May Reregister In Another Before the Election Takes Place.

Before May 4, 2010, Baca and his family lived in a house on Pheasant Lane within Graham County Justice Precinct No. 2 (JP2).  On April 18, 2010, Baca was registered to vote at the Pheasant Lane house and submitted an early ballot for the May 18 special election.  That same day Baca also decided to run for justice of the peace in Graham County Justice Precinct No. 1 (JP1).  On May 3, Baca submitted a new voter registration to change his party affiliation to “independent” and listed his Pheasant Lane address.  Upon being told the next day that he lived in JP2, Baca stated that he would “just move, then.”  Baca returned to the Graham County Recorder’s Office on May 4 or 5 and stated that he had listed the wrong address on the form he had filled out on May 3.  The Recorder instructed Baca to cross out the old address and write is new address on the same form, without requiring that Baca re-sign the form.  Baca listed as his new address the home of his mother on Relation Street, in JP1.  In early May 2010, Baca notified the Post office as well as his bank and credit card companies of his new address on Relation Street.  On May 5, Baca filed a political committee statement of organization, listing the Relation Street house as his residence.  On May 14, Baca filed his nomination papers and initial set of nominating petitions. 

Griffith, a justice of the peace in JP1, challenged Baca’s nominating petitions, arguing that Baca was not a qualified elector or resident in JP1 when he filed his nomination papers.  The superior court found that Baca left the Pheasant Lane house on May 4 and has lived in JP1 since then – at the Relation Street address until May 15 and then at the home of the parents of Baca’s wife, also in JP1.  Griffith appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, arguing that: (1) Baca could not validly change his voter registration by crossing out one address and inserting another without re-signing the form and (2) Baca could not be simultaneously registered in JP2 for purposes of casting his early ballot in the May 18th special election and in JP1 for the purposes of submitting his nomination papers on May 14.  The Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s ruling.     

A.R.S. § 16-311(A) states that “[a] candidate for public office shall be a qualified elector at the time of filing and shall reside in the county, district or precinct which the person proposes to represent.”  A.R.S. § 16-121(A) defines a “qualified elector” as a person “qualified to register to vote pursuant to § 16-101 and…properly registered to vote.”  Both Griffith and Baca interpreted these statutes to require a candidate to be registered to vote in the precinct in which they file nomination papers.  The Court assumed this to be true for the purposes of this case.  Nonetheless, the Court found that Baca had properly reregistered at the Relation Street address when he corrected his address on the previous form and resubmitted it to the Recorder, still bearing his signature and acknowledgment that false registration is a class 6 felony.  Likewise, the Court rejected Griffith’s argument that Baca could not reregister in JP1 until after the May 18 special election once he had submitted an early ballot in JP2.  The Court held that Arizona law permits an elector who has submitted an early ballot in one precinct to reregister to reflect a change of address but precludes that person from casting two votes by providing in A.R.S. § 16-135(D) that any provisional ballot in the new precinct will not be counted if the elector has already voted in the previous precinct.  The Court further noted that an elector can be registered in a precinct without being eligible to cast a vote in a particular election, such as in cases where the elector has registered less than twenty-nine days before an election as required by A.R.S. § 16-120.  Baca’s early vote in JP2, therefore, only barred him from voting a second time – it did not prevent him from reregistering in JP1. 

Justice Bales authored the opinion; Justices Hurwitz and Pelander concurred.