Every other year, the Arizona secretary of state is required by statute to submit a draft of the updated election procedures manual to the Arizona governor and Arizona attorney general for approval. This year, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich told Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs that she needed to make several changes in order for it to be in compliance with the law, but she refused.
Brnovich responded to her in a letter on December 10, “As Arizona’s Chief Legal Officer, I have a responsibility to assure that the EPM conforms to the law. As a reminder, election officials who violate its provisions (which are hundreds of pages long) are guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor. Through the red-lined document provided to you yesterday, I have provided clear direction on what changes need to be made to assure the EPM does not unnecessarily expose election officials and workers to criminal penalties.”
One of the main changes Brnovich objected to is allowing voters to cast ballots in precincts they don’t live in. Brnovich and Hobbs had an incident over this that ended up at the Supreme Court. The Democratic National Committee filed a lawsuit challenging Arizona’s laws requiring voters to vote within their own precincts. Hobbs refused to defend it on behalf of Arizona, so Brnovich stepped in to defend it, all the way to the Supreme Court where he won in Brnovich v. DNC.
Hobbs claims that Brnovich v. DNC only addressed the precinct requirement in the elections manual, not in statute, so since she has authority over the manual and can change it. However, Arizona statutes address the situation.
A.R.S. 16-122, Registration and records prerequisite to voting, provides, “No person shall be permitted to vote unless such person’s name appears as a qualified elector in both the general county register and in the precinct register or list of the precinct and election districts or proposed election districts in which such person resides, except as provided in sections 16-125, 16-135 and 16-584.”
A.R.S. 16-135, Change of residence from one address to another, states that a voter must have ID for the precinct that he or she voted in order for the ballot to count. A.R.S. 16-584 goes over all of the exceptions to voting in other precincts, and does not include a general scenario of someone voting in a different precinct. If they do, they are required to vote a provisional ballot, which will not get counted since it was the wrong precinct.
Hobbs said in her letter on December 10 refusing to make the changes, “It’s unfortunate that your Office can apparently find time to chase Cyber Ninjas conspiracies when it’s politically expedient, while choosing to burden taxpayers with additional expenses — presumably at the rate of hundreds of dollars an hour — to perform your basic statutory duties.” She was referring to Brnovich’s outside attorney Tim La Sota, who Brnovich hired due to his expertise in election law and its conflicts.
Hobbs said she didn’t understand the changes LaSota was referring to. “Based on what Mr. La Sota sent, no reasonable person can be certain what ‘changes’ the Attorney General is demanding or why.” She listed five objections to La Sota’s comments, ridiculing them. Hobbs dismissed his contentions that the “proposed regulations exceed the scope of the Secretary’s statutory authority or contravene an election statute’s purpose.”
She expressed anger at Brnovich “providing those demands through a third party in an indecipherable document.” The secretary of state told him that when they went through this process two years ago, “many of those items were based on your own misunderstanding of election administration.” Hobbs closed her letter, “Any further delay and posturing is inexcusable.”
Brnovich explained in his response back why he hired outside counsel. “We were forced to hire independent counsel, however, as a direct result of your unprecedented decision to file a bar complaint, not only against me but also against many attorneys in our office. I will not place our attorneys’ law licenses in jeopardy based on your insinuations. You cannot insist that our office perform certain functions and then turn around and allege our lawyers are unethical for doing their jobs.”
Hobbs has filed at least 12 bar complaints against Brnovich and his attorneys over election integrity issues.
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Rachel Alexander is a reporter at The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Rachel on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Mark Brnovich” by Mark Brnovich. Background Photo “Arizona State Capitol” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0.