Jenkins v. Hale – 8/19/2008

August 26, 2008

Arizona Supreme Court Holds That Signatures on a Nominating Petition That Provide Only a Post Office Box Address Are Not Invalid As a Matter of Law.

Albert Hale sought his party’s nomination for state senator from Legislative District Two.  To qualify Hale was required to collect 522 valid signatures on his nominating petition.  Hale submitted more than 800 signatures from electors in Apache, Coconino, and Navajo counties.  Royce Jenkins, a qualified elector, challenged 513 of Hale’s signatures alleging, primarily that the signatures were invalid because the electors only provided a post office box address.  The TheCountyRecorder’s of Navajo and Coconino automatically disqualified any signature that only contained a post office box address; however, the Apache County Recorder validated those signatures containing post office box addresses so long as it could verify that the signer was a registered voter.  Ultimately, the superior court granted summary judgment in favor of Hale, finding that he had submitted 523 valid signatures.  Jenkins timely appealed directly to the Supreme Court.

The controversy before the Supreme Court centered on the statutory requirement that a nominating petition be divided into four columns: “signature; printed name; actual residence address or description of place of residence, city, town or post office; and date of signing.”  A.R.S. § 16-315(A)(4).  While the statute only describes the form of the petition rather than the substance, the Court concluded that the legislature likely intended to require an elector to identify a residence address rather than a post office box.  However, no statute instructs election officials to automatically invalidate nominating petition signatures that contain only a post office box address.  Rather, the intent of the address requirement is to afford a convenient method of checking whether the person signing the petition is a qualified elector.  Thus, a signature indicating only a post office box address is not invalid per se.  Instead, if challenged, such a signature loses its presumption of validity, and the proponent must demonstrate to the trier of fact that the challenged signature is of a qualified elector.

Vice Chief Justice Berch authored the opinion, joined by Justice Bales and Judge Irvine sitting by designation pursuant to Article 6, Section 3 of the Arizona Constitution.