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Arizona AG’s Office: Hobbs can’t legally shut down online signature portal

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs will be breaking the law if she shuts down the system that allows congressional and legislative candidates to collect signatures online so they can qualify for the ballot, the Attorney General’s Office warned Tuesday.

In a letter to Bo Dul, Hobbs’ general counsel and election policy advisor, the Attorney General’s Office said state law requires the Secretary of State’s Office to provide a secure internet portal for voters to sign candidates’s nominating petitions, and that the system must only permit qualified electors to sign those petitions. Failing to do so would be either a class 3 misdemeanor or a class 6 felony, wrote Jennifer Wright, who leads Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s election integrity unit.

Hobbs informed candidates last week that she planned to take E-Qual, the online signature portal, offline on March 5 so counties and the Secretary of State’s Office could update the system to incorporate data from the state’s new legislative and congressional districts. She expected the system to be shut down through the April 4 deadline for candidates to file the nominating petitions they need to qualify for the primary election ballot. 

“As it is clear that no action yet has been taken to deprive candidates of their statutory right to obtain online nomination signatures, we urge the Secretary of State to fix the system without delay,” Wright told Dul in the letter. 

The Secretary of State’s Office disagrees with Wright’s claim that shutting down E-Qual would be illegal and is considering its response, said Murphy Hebert, a spokeswoman for Hobbs. 

State law permits legislative and congressional candidates in the 2022 election cycle to collect signatures in either their old or new districts. But because the new districts haven’t been incorporated into E-Qual, and in fact aren’t even official because the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission hasn’t transmitted them to the secretary of state, collecting online signatures in the new districts isn’t an option

Candidates who registered to use E-Qual in their new districts found that they could only collect signatures in the old district that bears the same number as the new one. For example, a legislative candidate in the new District 5, which covers central Phoenix, would only be able to collect signatures from the old District 5 which takes in Mohave and La Paz counties.

Voters can only sign petitions for candidates they’re eligible to vote for in the primary election, meaning they must live in the candidate’s district and either be registered under the same political party or as an independent. The redistricting-induced problems with E-Qual doesn’t affect statewide candidates, who will still be able to collect signatures if the system is taken offline for congressional and legislative hopefuls. 

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Hobbs has recommended that candidates use their old district numbers to collect signatures via E-Qual.

The issues with E-Qual also prevent legislative candidates who are running under the state’s Clean Elections system from collecting the $5 contributions they need to qualify for public funding for their campaigns. Candidates can still collect those qualifying contributions after the deadline for submitting nominating petitions.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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