Originally Published: June 23, 2018 6 a.m.
PHOENIX — Wendy Rogers can run for Congress in the Republican primary despite an error on her nominating petitions, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Smith ruled Thursday.
Smith acknowledged that state law requires that petitions list the county of the people who are signing the documents. The aim is to make it easier for recorders in each county to be able to verify the signatures of local voters.
What happened here is that many, if not most of the petitions that were circulated on her behalf were labeled as coming from Coconino County. Attorney Mike Liburdi said that was an apparent error on the part of campaign workers who thought the requirement was to list the county of the candidate’s residence.
Attorney Alexander Kolodin argued that error invalidated the petitions from other counties -- there are 11 in the sprawling congressional district — a move that would have left Rogers short of the signatures needed to qualify for the Aug. 28 primary.
But Smith agreed with Liburdi that the error is not fatal. More to the point, the judge said nothing about the error confused those who were signing the petitions.
“There is no dispute that the petitions correctly identified the candidate, the office she seeks, her party affiliation, or the date of the election,’’ Smith wrote.
And he said that the signatures — other than those already disqualified for other reasons -- all lived within Congressional District 1 (CD 1).
Smith did note that Pima County officials, in a statement for the court, said that getting a bunch of petitions all with “Coconino County’’ on the top did make it more difficult for them to analyze the signatures of their own voters. But that, the judge said, does not require that the signatures on the petitions from the wrong county be thrown out.
“There is no competent evidence that any county official did not accurately review signatures,’’ he wrote.
The judge also was not persuaded by Kolodin’s arguments that having petitions submitted with the wrong county information threw a hurdle in the path of those who were trying to keep Rogers’ name off the ballot. He pointed out that the lawsuit challenging her candidacy not only listed thousands of challenged signatures, but even was able to identify signers who did not reside in CD 1 or were not registered Republicans.
Smith also took a slap at the challengers for trying to use what he saw as a technical violation of having the wrong county name on petitions as an excuse to thwart Rogers’ congressional run.
“The election statutes and case law regarding nominating petition information are intended to prevent candidates from confusing electors who sign the petitions,’’ the judge wrote. “They are not designed as tools for challengers.’’
Attorney Tim La Sota, who also represents the challenger to Rogers’ candidacy, said no decision has been made whether to appeal.
Rogers, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and one of the first woman pilots, will face off in the GOP primary against state Sen. Steve Smith from Maricopa and farmer Tiffany Shedd, an Eloy farmer and small business attorney. Whoever survives the primary gets to go up against incumbent Democrat Tom O’Halleran.
The congressional district is the state’s largest by geography, stretching from the state’s northern border through Flagstaff to the eastern edge of the state, then down through Graham, Greenlee and much of Pinal county, finally reaching into Marana, Oro Valley and the suburbs of Tucson.
This year’s race marks the fifth bid by Rogers to get public office.
She made a 2010 bid for the state Senate, along with bids to get elected to Congress from CD 9 in 2012 and 2014. A 2016 run for the GOP nomination in CD 1 also proved unsuccessful.