The campaign of former Phoenix Police Sergeant Paul Penzone says it is supporting a challenge to Scottsdale Police Lieutenant Mike Stauffer's nomination signatures, a challenge that threatens to strike Stauffer's name from the November general election ballot for Maricopa County Sheriff.
Phoenix lawyer Andrew Gordon tells me the challenge will be filed today and will go line-by-line, disputing enough signatures to eliminate Stauffer's name as an Independent challenger to incumbent GOPer Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is running for an unprecedented sixth term as the county's top lawman.
According to the county recorder's website, Stauffer has submitted 29,794 signatures, more than 10,000 over the 19,410 required of an Independent running in that race.
Any challenge to Stauffer's petitions would have to invalidate enough signatures to push Stauffer below that minimum number of 19,410.
Gordon said his office is still working on the challenge, which has to meet a 5 p.m. deadline today, so he didn't have the final number of signatures that will be questioned.
"But we will have enough," he insisted, explaining that the challenges will be a combination of discrepancies both with the petition signers and with the petition circulators.
"If the circulator is invalid, then all the signatures gathered by that circulator get struck," Gordon stated. "There are some circulators who are being challenged because the addresses they give don't exist. One of them gave a Basha's shopping center as their address."
Democratic volunteer and Phoenix resident Lois Pfau is the official plaintiff in the case, according to Gordon, but the Penzone camp is unabashedly supportive of the effort. Penzone spokeswoman Stacy Pearson told me that Penzone partisans helped in vetting Stauffer's signatures.
She said red flags were raised by the fact that so many of Stauffer's signatures were obtained in a matter of a few months time by a paid signature-gathering service. This prompted a review of Stauffer's signatures by volunteers for the Penzone campaign and for the Democratic Party.
(Note: Penzone and former New York cop John Rowan are vying for the Democratic nomination to take on Arpaio in November.)
"In some cases as many as 50 percent of the signatures on a single page were bad," Pearson claimed of the review. "It was our duty as voters to make sure we weren't being duped, and that in fact, Mike Stauffer, while holding a full time job, has met the basic minimum requirements to get on the ballot."
Of course, Penzone's camp has a less-than-altruistic motive. Penzone is favored to take the Democratic nod on August 28, and is backed by Democratic party insiders. If Stauffer, a lifelong Republican running as an Indie, remains in the race, the resulting three-way split would seem to favor Arpaio..
In a head-to-head general election match-up, Penzone's chances would improve, though he still faces the political equivalent of King Kong in Arpaio, who boasts a multi-million dollar war chest and unparalleled name recognition for a county sheriff.
As far as Penzone's signatures go, Pearson said Penzone used only volunteers to obtain the 7,178 submitted. As Penzone is running as a Dem, he had a much lower threshold to meet, just 2,582 signatures of qualified county electors.
When the Stauffer camp announced in March that it had passed the 20,000 mark in signatures, Stauffer's campaign manager West Kenyon assured me that the Stauffer campaign had vetted those signatures.
When I contacted him today, Kenyon reconfirmed that statement, telling me Stauffer's paid signature-gathering service had guaranteed that 20,000 sigs were valid.
Kenyon said he believed Stauffer would overcome any challenge, but he left himself a little wiggle room.
"Anything's possible," Kenyon said, joking, "even taxes aren't guaranteed."
He added, "I feel very confident we will survive. Not arrogantly confident, but because we did it by the book."
Kenyon also asserted the Democratic Party was funding the effort. Gordon declined to say who was paying his tab. Pearson would only say that Gordon had done some work for the Penzone campaign.
A call to the Democratic county chair Ann Wallack was not immediately returned. However, it's worth pointing out that the challenge could hypothetically assist both Ds in the race.
I'll post more as I get it.
UPDATE 5:44 P.M.: Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne has confirmed that her office has been notified of the challenge to Stauffer's signatures. She said the county will have to be in court on Tuesday over the matter.
I also spoke with Bonita Burks, owner of Sign Here Petitions, which collected signatures for Stauffer. She told me that her company had verified 95 percent of the total signatures Stauffer submitted to the county.
She said she hadn't seen the actual complaint yet, and didn't know what the basis for it was. But she speculated that the information the Penzone camp was checking Stauffer's list against might be out-of-date.
"They think they have it," Burks said of the challenge. "But they don't. It's more of a desperation [thing]."
Regarding the example Gordon gave involving the Basha's address, Burks said that particular petition circulator was living at a different address due to a domestic violence situation, but that she was a qualified county voter, so her sheets would not be invalidated.
It's worth noting that SHP collected signatures for Citizens for a Better Arizona and helped that group successfully force a recall on ex-state Senate President Russell Pearce.
I've just received a copy of the complaint from Gordon and will post it shortly. It claims that 12,726 of Stauffer's signatures are invalid, "leaving only 17,068 valid signatures." That's "2,342 fewer than the 19,410 required valid signatures."
UPDATE 8:13 P.M.: Wallack returned my call just now. She insists the Maricopa County Democratic Party is not paying for the challenge to Stauffer's signatures. Neither the legal bill nor any other bill.
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Meanwhile, Lt. Stauffer has issued the following statement:
"The campaign has been advised that an Arizona Democratic operative, with the endorsement of Paul Penzone, has ﬁled a challenge to the almost 30,000 nominating signatures obtained by the Mike Stauffer for Sheriff campaign this past Spring.
"We are conﬁdent that our position on the November 6 ballot is secure and that this challenge is just another desperate partisan ploy by the AZ Democrats and Penzone to stay relevant. Once again, we see that instead of focusing on the very real issues at the MCSO and presenting solutions, Penzone and the Democratic leadership are engaged in political gamesmanship."
Finally, and hopefully this will be the last update for the night, you can peruse the entire 157 page Pfau complaint for yourself, here. I've only read the first few pages, not the exhibits, but by all means, have at it, folks.