Challenge: Secretary of State error should delay May 17 special election

Secretary of State Michele Reagan

Secretary of State Michele Reagan

PHOENIX - A lawyer is asking the Arizona attorney general to delay the May 17 special election because Secretary of State Michele Reagan failed to meet the deadline for getting publicity pamphlets to voters.

Tom Ryan said Arizona law requires Reagan's office to prepare pamphlets with pro and con arguments ahead of each election. More to the point, he said the law requires them to be mailed to every household with voters before the early ballots are delivered.

But Ryan said Monday that did not happen.

He said Arizona laws on matters referred to voters require strict compliance with all election laws. Ryan said Reagan's failure to comply means the election cannot legally take place.

Ryan said he will file a formal complaint today with Attorney General Mark Brnovich asking him to declare that holding the election would be illegal.

Reagan conceded that at least 200,000 pamphlets did not go out on time. She believes the affected households are all outside the two major counties.

The affected homes appear to be those with two people who are on the list to get early ballots. That means more than 400,000 voters could be affected.

The question remains whether that is enough to halt next week's election.

Reagan said the fault is due to a vendor whose program on who should get the pamphlets was flawed. But Reagan said the problem should likely have been noticed by her staff.

"This one is definitely on our office," she said.

There are two items on the May 17 ballot.

Proposition 123 would settle a 2010 lawsuit filed by school districts against the state for ignoring a 2000 voter-approved mandate to boost aid annually to account for inflation. It would provide $3.5 billion over the next decade, much of it coming from a special education trust account.

The other measure, Proposition 124, deals with pensions for police and firefighters. It would amend the Arizona Constitution to allow limits on future benefit increases.

Those publicity pamphlets contain what is supposed to be a neutral explanation of each ballot measure. They also contain arguments submitted by supporters and foes of both measures.

Getting that message into every home can be particularly crucial for groups that lack funding to do a mass media campaign.

Ryan said he will argue to Brnovich that the missed deadline is enough to cancel the election.

Arizona law says the secretary of state "shall mail one copy of the publicity pamphlet to every household that contains a registered voter." That adds up to about 1.9 million pamphlets.

That law says the mailing can be made over a period of days. But it says the pamphlets must be mailed ahead of any voters getting their early ballots - in this case, April 20.

At least 200,000 were not.

Ryan pointed out that Arizona law says there has to be "strict compliance with the constitutional and statutory requirements" for matters referred to the ballot. What that means, he said, is it's irrelevant whether the foul-up that caused the late mailings was intentional or not.

"People ought to be upset with the secretary of state for not doing her job," he said. Ryan said Reagan has not been paying attention to the main duties of her office and instead has been pushing lawmakers to make changes in laws, including one that foes say will pave the way for more anonymous money being allowed in Arizona elections.

"Instead of being down there pushing a pro-corruption agenda ... she should have been doing her job," he said.

Reagan and her staffers have defended the changes as protecting individual rights to participate in elections.