Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has come under fire for her handling of the electronic system used to collect online signatures for political candidates, E-Qual. The system was not updated to accommodate new redistricting, which has made it very difficult for campaigns to collect enough signatures in time to make the ballot this fall. On March 17, Hobbs took the entire system offline, making it impossible to collect signatures, so Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich asked Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre on March 29 to “investigate and take any appropriate enforcement actions (civil and criminal).”
McIntyre told The Arizona Sun Times, “I can confirm that we have received the request and begun the investigative process.”
Hobbs put the system back up on March 30 – five days ahead of the deadline for signatures on April 4.
Thanks to a colossal effort by #SOS staff & county officials, E-Qual is back up ahead of schedule after necessary redistricting updates for Congressional & Legislative candidates. Voters can sign E-qual petitions for Statewide, Legislative, Congressional, & some local candidates. pic.twitter.com/irEOsn1rWq
— Secretary Katie Hobbs (@SecretaryHobbs) March 31, 2022
State Rep. Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley), who is running for Arizona Secretary of State, said during Steve Bannon’s War Room that he believes Hobbs will be convicted. “I don’t see how this doesn’t end up in some kind of a conviction. I think it will go to court. … Obviously, she’s going to make all kinds of claims, but at the end of the day, she committed a crime.”
The downtime also affected candidates attempting to file documents in person, Hobbs’ public information officer said. Brnovich decided to investigate after getting multiple complaints from candidates. State law requires Hobbs’ office to maintain a system for candidates to collect signatures for the state legislature and Congress. Reports say it also affected candidates running for county-level offices.
In his letter to McIntyre, Brnovich indicated that Hobbs told candidates as late as December 29, 2021, that they would be able to use the system to collect signatures all the way up until the deadline of April 4. Brnovich said Hobbs disputed this and claimed that she intended to take it offline on March 6. Brnovich’s office told Hobbs that would violate the law, so Hobbs sued him, asking a court to block him from suing her and alleging that when the counties updated their voter information to reflect the new districts, it would make E-Qual nonfunctional. The court denied her request for a preliminary injunction, saying it was premature, but Hobbs took the system offline anyway.
Brnovich cited the felony election statute ARS 16-1010: “A person charged with performance of any duty under any law relating to elections who knowingly refuses to perform such duty, or who, in his official capacity, knowingly acts in violation of any provision of such law, is guilty of a Class 6 felony…” Brnovich also cited ARS 16-1009, which makes it a Class 3 misdemeanor for “[a] public officer upon whom a duty is imposed” by Title 16 of the Arizona Revised Statutes to “knowingly fail or refuse to perform that duty in the manner prescribed by law.”
Initial glitches with the system began in January, when candidates found they could collect signatures through E-Qual under the number of their old district or the number of their new district, but not both. The new district number was not feasible, since it correlated with whatever old district that previously had that number. Using the old district number wasn’t adequate, since many of the voters there were no longer in the new district.
Former Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, a Democrat who is running for Arizona Secretary of State, criticized Hobbs over the downtime. He tweeted on March 29, “The State E-Qual system should be available for every petition in Arizona. It’s fast, easy and secure. It also fulfills our First Amendment right to petition our government. Link to policy… #ProtectDemocracy” He linked to his policy to improve E-Qual.
Candidates like Rachel Mitchell, a Republican running for Maricopa County Attorney, also tweeted her frustration. Due to the incumbent Maricopa County attorney announcing her resignation just three weeks before nominating signatures are due, the candidates who jumped into the race at the last minute seeking to replace her were greatly affected by E-Qual’s downtime. Sam Stone, former chief of staff for Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who is running to replace DiCiccio, tweeted, “E-Qual down for County level candidates just ahead of deadline where DEM Attorney candidate has already qualified, GOP hasn’t #Fishy #Arizona #MaricopaAtty.”
Although Hobbs put the system back up, it still appears to have glitches. Hobbs attacked her predecessor in office in 2017 over technical problems with E-Qual.
E-Qual used to be a tool for AZ voters to make their voices heard. Since @SecretaryReagan's changes, it's been nothing but an #EQualFail. pic.twitter.com/IImPZp8Psj
— Katie Hobbs (@katiehobbs) August 4, 2017
Brnovich has feuded with Hobbs numerous times over election integrity issues, and stepped in to defend the state’s bans on ballot harvesting and voting outside a voter’s precinct when Hobbs wouldn’t, taking the case Brnovich v. DNC to the U.S. Supreme Court and winning it. Hobbs still attempted to allow voters to cast votes in other precincts in the state elections procedures manual, which Brnovich warned her could result in criminal penalties. Hobbs filed 12 bar complaints against Brnovich and his staff attorneys over the disputes, which were all dismissed by the Arizona State Bar. This is why Brnovich referred the investigation to another prosecutor.
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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 “Katie Hobbs” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0.