America First Legal (AFL) filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against Maricopa County, alleging numerous violations of election law since 2020. Some of the issues raised in the complaint were brought up in similar lawsuits brought around the country challenging irregularities in the 2020 election, where judges found they had merit.
The AFL listed eight issues in its complaint, and mainly asked for declaratory judgment to stop the county from repeating the wrongdoing and comply with law. The first was lack of chain of custody for tens of thousands of ballots, a class 2 misdemeanor. The second was failure to conduct reconciliation as required by law, which refers to comparing the number of votes cast at polling centers to the number of voters who checked in. The third was the failure of the voting center printers, disenfranchising voters. The fourth was the racially discriminatory location of vote centers, disadvantaging Native Americans and whites who lived farther from the locations than others.
The fifth was the use of AI to assist with signature verification, since state law requires human verification. The sixth was the unauthorized cancellation of thousands of voter registrations, as voters discovered their registration had been transferred to other counties when they went to vote. The seventh alleged unlawful curing of ballots, where workers called voters without verifying it was really them. Finally, the complaint cited unstaffed ballot drop boxes, violating Arizona law.
In Genetski & MI GOP v. Benson, Michigan Court of Claims Judge Christopher Murray ruled that Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson violated state law by adding guidance to the signature verification procedures that was not authorized by statutes. Benson added instructions to the state’s signature verification standards which told reviewers to operate from a presumption that the signatures are valid, and find “any redeeming qualities” for signatures.
Murray noted that the issue wasn’t moot, even though the election was over, since the signature guidance was still in effect. He dismissed the defendants’ assertion that there was no “controversy,” since future signature reviewers would also encounter the same problem. “[T]he ability to seek an advance declaration of legal rights on an existing policy is one of the very reasons why the declaratory judgment rule was adopted in the first instance,” Murray said.
Murray also found that Benson wasn’t merely providing “instructions,” since the guidance was required of all signature reviewers. Benson could have gotten the guidance made into a rule, but failed to follow the procedures to do so.
More recently, an Arizona judge found in September that Maricopa County’s signature verification procedures violated the law. Yavapai County Superior Court Judge John Napper refused to grant a Motion To Dismiss from the defendant Secretary of State on a lawsuit challenging the illegal verification procedures. He said the new procedures adopted in the state’s Election Procedures Manual (EPM) were not authorized by state law, so “do not have the force of law.” Napper said, “The 2019 EPM creates a process that contradicts the plain language of A.R.S. 16-550(A).”
Napper added that the challenge was “ripe for decision” since there was “an actual controversy between the parties.” He found “the correct tabulation of votes to be an issue of statewide importance.” The case is still ongoing.
In RNC/Trump v. Miller, U.S. District Court Judge Ian K. Thornhill held that election officials could not take steps that went against state statutes. There, the Iowa Secretary of State sent unrequested absentee ballot request forms to every voter with pre-populated fields in them such as the voters’ names and date of birth.
The secretary of state responded with objections to the lawsuit that were frequently repeated in many defenses to the 2020 election lawsuits: “For his legal argument, Defendant asserts Plaintiffs lack standing to pursue this action, and their Petition sets forth merely general, hypothetical concern for election fraud and is in no way specified or directed toward Linn County or the State of Iowa. Defendant further asserts Plaintiffs do not have a specific or personal legal interest in the claim, and cannot prove an injury in fact.”
Thornhill disagreed with all of the objections, and stated that “Plaintiffs also have demonstrated that they will suffer irreparable harm if an injunction is not entered” since the counties will be treating voters differently under the secretary of state’s directive; some counties could not afford to send the pre-populated ballots.
Similarly, many of the actions taken by Maricopa County challenged in the lawsuit treat voters differently than voters in other counties.
Thornhill did not find that halting the mailing of the pre-populated ballots would disenfranchise voters, since they could “acquire an absentee ballot in another manner permitted by Iowa law.”
Thornhill found that the plaintiffs had standing due to their interest in the election, since they were a political party and a political candidate, and had an interest “including with respect to voter registration and mobilization.”
AFL is representing plaintiffs Strong Communities Foundation of Arizona Inc., an “Arizona-focused grassroots organization” with a mission “to make civic participation easy and accessible,” and Eric Lovelis, an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation Native American tribe.