Leach v. Hobbs (4/5/2021)

April 7, 2021

Arizona Supreme Court holds that a petition circulator who de-registers is still subject to subpoena requirements applicable to petition circulators under A.R.S. § 19-118(E).

A political action committee sought to put a ballot initiative up for a vote during the most recent general election.  The committee submitted petition sheets to the Secretary of State that contained the required number of signatures, collected by petition circulators.  The Secretary of State approved the ballot initiative.  A group of challengers filed a lawsuit questioning the validity of the signatures and petition circulators.  Once the lawsuit was filed, the committee cancelled its circulators’ registrations, under the procedures in the Arizona Secretary of State 2019 Election Procedures Manual.  Then, the challengers subpoenaed a subset of the circulators to testify at trial regarding the validity of the signatures they gathered.  Some of those individuals failed to appear at trial.  As a result, the challengers moved to have all signatures obtained by the absent circulators deemed invalid under A.R.S. § 19-118(E), which imposes a mandatory requirement that all circulators respond to subpoenas and appear.  

The committee argued that the trial court should not invalidate the signatures obtained by the absent collectors for two reasons: (1) the collectors did not have to appear because they had been de-registered under the Election Procedures Manual; and (2) the subpoenas served on the electors were invalid.  The trial court rejected these arguments, excluded the signatures gathered by absent circulators, and held that the ballot initiative was invalid due to an insufficient number of signatures. 

The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed.  The Court explained that, when read in context, section 19-118(E) applies to any circulator that is registered at the time they collected the signatures for the ballot initiatives.  A contrary interpretation would permit a committee to avoid any obligation under section 19-118(E) by simply cancelling the registration of its circulators at the outset of any lawsuit.  The Arizona Supreme Court then explained that, to the extent section 19-118(E) conflicts with the Election Procedures Manual, the statute controls.

The Arizona Supreme Court also rejected the committee’s challenges to the validity of the subpoenas served on its circulators. 

Justice Lopez authored the opinion of the Court, in which all other Justices joined.  Justice Bolick authored a concurring opinion.