City argues the Party took too long to bring lawsuit
City Clerk Roger Randolph looked on today as Paul Gattone, civil rights attorney for the Green Party of Pima County, and Senior Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Stash, argued whether an error caused by the city clerk’s office that placed the wrong statutory language on the Party’s petition forms in 2017 should bar the city from denying the Green Party a spot on the 2019 primary and general elections.
State statutes 16-801 and 16-802 are dissimilar, with 801 speaking to state recognition and 802 to city and county recognition of new parties on the ballot for primary and general elections. The language of 16-801 was put on the Green Party’s petition forms in 2017 and that is what they relied coming into the 2019 election cycle, according to Gattone.
However, the Certificate of Sufficiency signed by Randolph in 2017 clearly cites 16-802 as the source of his authority to recognize the party. And the city argued therefore 16-804 (B) should control the case which means the Green Party would need 1,763 registered voters in Tucson to automatically be placed on the ballot, but they only have 911 according to the Pima County Recorder’s website. Or, the Party could have utilized the petition process all over again.
The City Clerk determined the Party received 1,425 valid signatures on the petition forms in 2017 and the Party subsequently won 5,721 votes in Ward 6 voting. However, these numbers have no bearing on recognition in any subsequent election according to the statutes.
“Was there delay caused by the instructions being wrong?” Judge D. Douglas Metcalf asked Gattone who then detailed an email received by Charles Irvin, the party’s office coordinator, on Feb. 7 in response to his Jan. 27 inquiry to the City Clerk about conflicting information on the Party’s ballot status.
Suzanne Mesich, assistant city clerk, responded in the Feb. 7 email that the city’s election attorney determined 16-804 (B) was the proper legal authority in the matter.
A memorandum later sent out by the City Clerk on April 9 formally recognizing parties that made the ballot did not include the Green Party because they would have needed to submit petitions by March 25, or have met the requirements of 16-804(B).
Stash argued the plaintiff’s waited too long to bring the court action and the doctrine of laches should apply. Because, the city had already sent out postcards to independent voters for them to decide which of the party primaries to vote in, and many had already decided. She urged Judge Metcalf to “look at the injustice to the general public.”
However, the city’s 110-page response to the original complaint said, “Due to the pending action, Defendants have put in a rush order to include Plaintiff to be prepared for whatever the result of this litigation is. This was done at a significant expense to Defendants.”
Gattone argued the Party should still be allowed to participate in the primary and general elections and the current court action does not prejudice the city because its already prepared to include them on the ballot depending on the outcome of the case.
Judge Metcalf appeared to be weighing the city clerk’s 2017 petition form error versus the alleged last-minute nature of the lawsuit through much of the hearing and said he would make a ruling by the end of next week.