Zach Yentzer off ballot for Tucson mayor due to lack of valid signatures
35% of signers on nominating petitions were declared invalid; fellow independent Ed Ackerley filed legal challenge
Zach Yentzer, one of two independent candidates vying to challenge Regina Romero as Tucson's mayor in November, said his campaign was ending after losing a challenge over his petition signatures.
Yentzer submitted 3,864 signatures to become an independent candidate in the fall, according to the Tucson City Clerk's Office. However, the Pima County Recorder's Office found more than 35 percent of his signatures were invalid, and fellow independent candidate Ed Ackerley successfully filed a legal challenge to remove Yentzer from November's ballot.
Yentzer attempted to rebut this challenge by claiming a mistake by the Clerk's Office, however, a Pima County judge rejected this argument and ruled Yentzer ineligible to be on the November 7 ballot.
The Recorder's Office said 1,892 of the signatures Yentzer's campaign submitted were challenged. Of those, around 533 were valid. However, 1,359 were declared invalid—including 761 signatures from people who were not registered on the date they signed, 104 people who signed more than once, and 403 people who do not live in the city of Tucson, officials said.
The number of invalid signatures puts Yentzer far below the threshold candidates must gather to earn their way onto the city's November general election ballot. Both independent candidates and candidates associated with a political party must gather signatures. However, only candidates linked with political parties must run the August 1 primary election—with mail-in voting throughout July.
Non-party candidates seeking to skip the primary and be listed on the general election ballot must file more signatures on nominating petitions, as they will not face any primary competition.
Signers must be registered voters who live in the city, and have not signed a petition for another candidate for the same office
Tucson has 131,000 registered Democratic voters, another 98,000 voters are not registered with a political party, and just 61,000 are registered Republicans. Around 2,300 are Libertarians.
Yentzer was the only candidate to face a challenge to their signatures, according to the Clerk's Office.
Ackerley managed to submit 4,543 signatures to become an independent candidate. Independent candidates for Tucson's mayor need to submit at least 2,952 signatures — 3% of registered voters not signed up with one of the three recognized political parties. Partisan candidates must gather signatures from registered voters equal to 5% of the votes cast in the preceding general election by members of their party. Republican candidates can submit a minimum of 1,432 signatures to get on the ballot, while Democratic mayoral candidates need at least 2,591.
Yentzer filed to run for Tucson's mayor last year, and according to county records, he switched his party registration from Republican to independent on Jan. 26, 2022.
Among other candidates for mayor, Libertarian candidate Arthur Kerschen filed 40 signatures (he needed just 29, due to the small number of registered party members), while Republican Janet Wittenbaker submitted 2,593 signatures (with 1,432 required).,
Romero, seeking re-election to a second term as mayor, filed 3,961 signatures (with 2,591 minimum needed).
In January, the 32-year-old Yentzer announced he would challenge Tucson's Democratic mayor, telling reporters during a press conference he would seek to expand housing in Tucson, promote business development, and work to solve the city's homelessness problem.
Yentzer spent four years as the president of the Menlo Park Neighborhood Association, and five years hosting Tipping Point—a Tucson-focused news and politics talk show on 1030 KVOI. He is currently the executive director of Tucson Young Professionals, a networking group.
Yetnzer faced a tough road in his quest to unseat Romero. She spent years serving Tucson's Ward 1 for the Tucson City Council, and she handily beat Ackerley in 2019 and became Tucson's first Latina mayor. In 2020 as she led Tucson through the COVID-19 pandemic, she also weathered a recall effort after organizers failed to submit enough signatures to get their petition on the ballot.
Further, Yentzer faced competition from Ackerley, who has again stepped into the ring to challenge Romero as an independent. Ackerley has promised to rapidly hire dozens of Tucson police officers and pave and repair roads, as well as promote economic development in the city and establishing what he calls "homeless transition centers" in abandoned buildings, as well as "quick strike teams" to relocate and clear homeless camps.
In a statement posted to Facebook and Twitter, Yetnzer said lthat ast Monday Ackerley's campaign challenged his signatures. In the posts, Yetnzer said his campaign had "significant concerns with the accuracy of the County Recorder's report," and argued Ackerley's campaign and the city clerk improperly served a complaint.
Yentzer said his legal team filed a motion to dismiss the case, but while "we had strong case law supporting our motion" the judge rejected their arguments.
"Due to the tight statutory 10-day timeline for cases like this, we have no further relief and this means that our campaign for mayor has come to an end," Yentzer's campaign said.
"It is with sadness our team shares today's news, but our tomorrow is filled with purpose and intent to continue working towards the direction for Tucson that fueled our campaign from the beginning," Yentzer said.
In the legal filing, Yentzer's attorney claimed the city served him with an incomplete document, missing one page of the complaint. However, on Friday, Pima County Superior Court Judge Gary J. Cohen rejected this argument, noting the Clerk's Office informed Yetnzer by phone he was facing a legal challenge from Ackerley, and while officials "inadvertently omitted" one page of the complaint, the information was "all undisputedly stated elsewhere" in the document.
"Yentzer's counsel candidly and professional[ly] conceded at oral argument that this missing page neither affected how this case was processed in this court, nor any substantial discovery in this case," wrote Cohen. "Under these circumstances Yentzer's request elevates form over substance, which this court is not to do."
Cohen ruled Yentzer's nominating petition was "legally insufficient" and that his name could not be printed on the November 7 ballot.
While Romero will face Ackerley in November, voters will also consider their choice for City Council in Wards 1, 2 and 4.
In Ward 1, Democratic incumbent Lane Santa Cruz will face Miguel Ortega in the August primary, and the primary winner will face Republican challenger Victoria Lem in November.
In Ward 2, Democratic incumbent Paul Cunningham will face Lisa Nutt in the August primary. The winning Democrat will face a three-way race including Republican Ernie Shack and Libertarian candidate Pendleton Spicer in November.
In Ward 4, Democratic incumbent Nikki Lee will face Republican Ross Kaplowitch in November.