Pima County Superior Court Judge D. Douglas Metcalf said the city clerk’s office, “abused their discretion and acted arbitrarily and capriciously by not including the Green Party as a political party” on the August primary ballot, in a ruling released this week.
Ruling in favor of the Green Party of Pima County, Metcalf shot down the city’s defense argument that the Party took too long to pursue court action, also known as laches, and instead stopped the city from excluding the Party in the 2019 election.
The lawsuit stemmed from a city clerk’s office error back in 2017 when the Green Party went through the petition process to be put on the 2017 ballot. The Party did not have enough registered voters to automatically be put on the ballot but was ultimately successful in getting enough signatures through the petition process.
The petition forms provided by the city clerk’s office at the time contained erroneous language that referred to the wrong state statute which governs new political parties trying to get on local ballots.
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.
The language of 16-801, which is supposed to govern state ballots, not municipal ballots, says that a successful petition process by a new party guarantees them a spot on the ballot for the next two election cycles, and that is the language that was on the Green Party’s petition forms in 2017 and what they relied on coming into the 2019 election cycle. The errant language made the Party think they did not have to go through the petition process again until after the 2020 elections.
The statute that should have been on the Party’s petition forms in 2017, 16-802, requires any new political party that does not automatically qualify for the ballot, through meeting a registered voter threshold, to go through the petition process every year.
Though Metcalf found that the city had abused their discretion in attempting to prevent the Party from being on this year’s ballot, he also found 16-802 to be the controlling statute moving forward. This means that it is likely the Party will have to go through the petition process again next year for the 2020 elections, that is unless they have a spike in registered voters.
“We’ll take it,” Paul Gattone, civil rights attorney for the Party, said. The Green Party will have to conduct an internal write-in primary and will not be on the primary ballot but the candidates that emerge through the internal write-in primary will be printed on the November general election ballot, according to Gattone.
The city clerk’s office did not respond to TDSN’s request for comment.