AG rejects GOP claim, says Democratic lawmaker’s son voted legally

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The Attorney General’s Office rejected a conservative activist’s attempt to have a Democratic legislator’s son charged with a felony for casting ballots in Arizona elections while living in New York, finding no indication that he’d violated voter registration residency laws.

The ruling largely hinged on a 2018 Arizona Supreme Court ruling permitting a former lawmaker to run for office in Yuma, despite living mostly in Phoenix.

Daniel Epstein, the son of Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, voted in Arizona elections in 2008, 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020 while registered at his parents’ home, though he lived in New York as a student and later as an aspiring actor during some of those years.

Attorney Timothy La Sota, who represented activist Peggy McClain, argued that Daniel Epstein was a full-time New York resident and therefore his votes in Arizona were cast illegally. In a complaint to the Attorney General’s Office in May, La Sota alleged that Epstein had committed class 5 felony, punishable by nine months to two years in prison.

But the Attorney General’s Office informed La Sota in a Sept. 18 letter that it was closing the complaint. Todd Lawson, senior litigation counsel for the attorney general’s fraud and special prosecutions section, noted in his letter that, the way state law defines residency for the purposes of voting, a temporary absence from Arizona doesn’t disqualify someone from voting if they have “an intent to return.”

Lawson wrote that La Sota’s complaint “did not provide information that Mr. Epstein lacked an ‘intent to return’ following his time in New York.”

Bolstering the attorney general’s finding was the 2018 case of former lawmaker Don Shooter. Shooter, a Yuma Republican, ran for a seat in the Senate after the House of Representatives expelled him earlier that year for sexual harassment. An opponent challenged his candidacy in court, ruling that he was a resident of Phoenix and therefore couldn’t legally represent Yuma. 

Though Shooter lived primarily in Phoenix, where his mail was being forwarded, and his apartment in Yuma didn’t even have electricity, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that he had an intent to return and permitted him to stay on the ballot.

Mitzi Epstein told Arizona Mirror that her son has always voted legally and appropriately. As an actor, he’s lived and worked in many places, she said. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in hard-hit New York, he moved back to his parents’ house in Tempe for a few months this year, she said. He’s since returned to New York.

“This is where he comes back. This is his home, always,” Mitzi Epstein said.

Epstein said she and her son were always confident that the investigation would find no wrongdoing because they know he followed the law. But she was still dismayed that the complaint was filed in the first place.

“I wish I could read the minds of the people who decided to file this unsubstantiated complaint, because it caused a great deal of harm and hurt to many people,” she said.

La Sota largely declined to comment on the attorney general’s closing of the case. He said the 2018 ruling on Shooter’s candidacy made it more difficult to prove residency or non-residency in Arizona.

“I think that case unnecessarily muddled things,” he said.

McClain and La Sota’s original complaint against Daniel Epstein also falsely accused him of voting in both Arizona and California in the 2010 general election. Voting records from both states showed that Epstein voted only in Arizona that year, and La Sota later amended his complaint to omit that allegation.