AG: Hobbs can’t end in-person candidate fillings because of COVID-19

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs at the inauguration on Jan. 7, 2019. Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich says Secretary of State Katie Hobbs can’t require all prospective candidates to either mail or use a new drop box to submit the nominating petitions required for them to qualify for the ballot.

In an opinion issued Tuesday afternoon, Brnovich wrote that Hobbs’s plan, though a well-intentioned move aimed at protecting state employees and potential candidates from COVID-19, isn’t allowed by state law or a recent executive order from Gov. Doug Ducey.

Hobbs on March 20 said that the secretary of state’s office would be closed to candidates wishing to file for the foreseeable future, and that any candidates who intended to submit their nominating petitions would instead need to mail them – and make sure that they arrived at Hobbs’s office before the April 6 deadline.

“The decision to limit in-person filings was made after careful consideration based on guidance from federal and state health officials. Given the current public health concern, the office is limiting visitors and requiring staff to telework as much as possible,” the secretary of state’s office said in a press release.

Earlier Tuesday, Hobbs’s office said would-be candidates could also submit their petitions in a new drop box located on the first floor of the Executive Tower; Hobbs’s office is on the 7th floor.

Brnovich wrote in his legal opinion that state law requires candidates to obtain a receipt that their petitions were submitted, including the number of signatures filed and who accepted them. The law also requires that government offices remain open to the public during business hours, and Ducey’s March 23 executive order lists government as an “essential operation.” 

Hobbs can expand the ways for candidates to file their petitions to include mailing them or using the drop box, but she can’t require candidates use those methods instead of the one spelled out in the law, Brnovich concluded. 

The secretary of state’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.