Democratic party lawsuit challenges ballot placements

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

The Democratic Party is suing the Arizona Secretary of State in a bid to overturn election laws they say give the Republicans an unfair advantage in the state.

The lawsuit points to a specific section of the Arizona Revised Statutes, 16-502 E. The law dictates that candidates for whichever party receives the most votes for governor in a given county will be listed first on subsequent ballots.

In the 2018 Arizona general election, the last time an election for governor was held in the state, Republican incumbent Doug Ducey won in 11 of Arizona’s 15 counties. These previous victories mean that in the 2020 and 2022 general elections, Republican candidates will be listed first in almost 75% of counties representing over 80% of Arizona residents.

The lawsuit claims that the statute represents “a significant, state-mandated advantage” and violates the first and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Plaintiffs in the case are calling for the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona to prohibit the Arizona Secretary of State and other authorities from enforcing the ballot placement rule in Arizona Revised Statutes section 16.

In a statement accompanying the announcement of the lawsuit, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez explained the party’s reason for legal action.

“Democrats are taking every action possible to protect the integrity of our democratic process and ensure every voter can participate in a fair election,” Perez said. “An unbiased ballot is one of the cornerstones of our democratic system, and this joint effort will help make sure no one political party is given an unfair advantage at voters’ expense.”

Multiple administrative and campaign arms of the Democratic Party, Priorities USA, a 17-year-old Arizona resident and an 18-year-old Arizona resident are listed as plaintiffs. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is listed as the defendant.

The lawsuit comes almost exactly a year before the 2020 general election, where the senatorial and presidential races in Arizona, in addition to several local races, could be the closest in years.

Former Flagstaff City Council member Eva Putzova is currently competing for the Democratic nomination for Congress in Arizona’s first congressional district, which includes Flagstaff and much of northern and eastern Arizona.

Putzova supports the aims of the lawsuit as a means to hold the elections process and the government accountable.

“We all deserve elections — and a government — free of corruption, bias and special interests," Putzova said.

She also suggested that this statute is representative of wider issues in politics and is partially responsible for voter apathy.

"People should have a fair, unbiased opportunity to vote at the ballot,” Putzova said. “This kind of thing is why too many people have lost faith in the political process, and why they often don’t bother to show up at the polls.”

Like Putzova, Haley Evans, the president of the NAU Civic Engagement Club, discussed the importance of addressing issues that could impact voter turnout.

Evans explained that as the number of voters rises, the electorate should scrutinize issues that affect the elections process.

“I think because it's our future, it’s definitely something that we need to care about, especially because hopefully more young people are going to start or continue voting,” Evans said.

Evans said it is important for young people, like the two teenagers listed as plaintiffs, to understand issues with the structure of government in addition to current policy issues.

The litigation is just one of many actions being taken nationwide as both parties seek to position themselves for victory in the consequential 2020 election.

Spokespeople for Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and the Democratic Party declined to speak on the issue.