McEwen v. Sainz – Signature Verification/Early-Ballot Challenges (AZ)
On August 1, 2022, the Santa Cruz County Superior Court accepted a motion by Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs to file an amicus brief in support of the defendants, Santa Cruz County Recorder Suzanne Sainz and Santa Cruz County Elections Director Alma Schultz, in the case McEwen v. Sainz. The States United Democracy Center served as pro-bono outside counsel to Secretary Hobbs alongside co-counsel Coppersmith Brockelman PLC.
In the case, the chair of the Republican party in Santa Cruz County, Steven McEwen, is seeking access as a designated party observer to be close enough to see voters’ signatures on their early-ballot affidavit envelopes during the verification process completed by the county recorder’s staff, as well as access to voter signatures in the voter registration file, in order to challenge early ballots based on alleged signature mismatches. Amicus Curiae Secretary Hobbs explained in her brief that McEwen’s request lacks any support in Arizona law—which makes voter signatures confidential and does not authorize early-ballot challenges based solely on an alleged signature mismatch. Secretary Hobbs also explained that the request would interfere with county officials’ ability to do their jobs, jeopardize the orderly administration of the election, and threaten timely certification of the results.
After a hearing on August 1, Judge Cartwright denied the plaintiff’s requested relief and dismissed the case, issuing an opinion in favor of Recorder Sainz and Elections Director Schulz. The opinion agreed with Secretary Hobbs’ and the defendants’ arguments that: (1) Arizona law prohibits disclosure of voter signatures except in limited circumstances, none of which apply to plaintiff, and (2) signature verification is a function and responsibility of the County Recorder’s office and not the basis for an early-ballot challenge.
At the time of the filing of the amicus brief, the case was set for an order-to-show-cause hearing in the Santa Cruz County Superior Court.