McKenna v. Soto (2/17/2021)

March 1, 2021

Arizona Supreme Court holds that election petition signatures with incomplete date or address information are valid if they substantially comply with the statutory requirements.

A candidate for state office obtained the required number of signatures to qualify for the primary ballot.  Another individual challenged that candidate’s participation in the primary, arguing that many of the signatures collected were invalid because they lacked certain date or address information required by statute and the Secretary of State’s Election Procedures Manual.  The county recorder’s office reviewed the challenged signatures and determined that the candidate had obtained enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.  After a hearing, the trial court also found that the candidate had enough signatures to qualify.

The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed.  It first noted that if a candidate’s petition substantially complies with the statutory requirements, the Court will not block the candidate from the ballot.  Examining the incomplete date signatures, the Court concluded that most of the signatures substantially complied with the statutory requirements because it could deduce that the signatures were acquired in the correct year. 

The Court rejected the individual’s argument that the incomplete date signatures were invalid because they failed to comply with the Election Procedures Manual.  It explained that the manual did not have the force of law because the relevant statute did not grant the Secretary of State rulemaking authority.  Accordingly, the manual was only guidance and could not be relied upon to invalidate the signatures. 

The Court also found that the signatures with incomplete address information were valid.  It explained that because the recorder was able to verify voter eligibility based on the incomplete information (typically an address that lacked a city or zip code), the signatures substantially complied with the statute. 

Justice Beene authored the opinion; Vice Chief Justice Timmer, Justice Bolick, and Justice Lopez joined.  The remaining justices did not participate in the case.