A local lawmaker responded to concerns about fake signatures on arguments in the voter pamphlet issued in last year’s Scottsdale Unified budget override election.
Last fall, some Scottsdale residents questioned the identity of five authors whose arguments were in the pamphlets the county sent to eligible voters.
On Jan. 9, state Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, introduced H.B. 2121, which would require arguments for or against overrides, bonds and other ballot measures to submit a notarized statement validating their identity.
State law does not currently require agencies administering election pamphlets, such as the county school superintendents, to verify the authors’ identities.
Kavanagh confirmed his proposed legislation came in response to problems disclosed last fall by the Progress.
He said while heard from one or two constituents “in a case like this, it’s just good legislation, so whether it was one person or one thousand, I would run the bill.”
The issue dates back to Oct. 2019, a month before SUSD’s successful override election.
“I got my ballot pamphlet in the mail yesterday for the SUSD override. As far as I can tell (besides Loyd Eskildson) the other ‘against’ writers appear to be fictitious,” Rose Smith wrote to the Progress on Oct. 7.
Smith, now a candidate for SUSD Governing Board, and others told the Progress they suspected five of the six arguments against the override were submitted by the same individual or group using false names.
The Progress found some evidence to back up their claims, though the identity of the author or authors was never confirmed.
The five arguments in question were signed by Samantha Cartier, Hector Carrillo, Cynthia Majinsky, Jen Lopez and Sandra Lacey.
The arguments signed by Majinsky, Carrillo and Lopez were all recorded by the county superintendent’s office at 1:51 p.m. July 17, records showed.
Additionally, official voter rolls maintained by the Maricopa County Recorder showed there were no registered voters in Scottsdale – or the entire county –named Samantha Cartier, Hector Carrillo, Cynthia Majinsky, Jen Lopez or Sandra Lacey.
There were 60 individuals named Jennifer Lopez registered to vote in Maricopa County, two within Scottsdale Unified boundaries.
The Progress was unable to contact those two individuals to determine if they submitted the arguments.
In October, Smith called for stricter rules to verify identities and told the Progress the use of false identities could mislead voters.
“Citizens often rely on the voting pamphlet to educate them in determining their vote. They read the supporting and opposing comments and make decisions based on those arguments,” Smith said. “In this case, it appears six community members opposed the override. In fact, it should have been only one.”
The Maricopa County Superintendent of Schools is required by law to include pro and con arguments in override voter pamphlets but is not required to validate the authors’ identity.
Kavanagh told the Progress last fall while there is a loophole in state statute, it may be difficult to close.
“I’m open to a discussion on this, but when you start to think about it, there’s a lot of Constitutional and practical and technical issues this raises,” Kavanagh explained.
Kavanagh now believes his bill addresses many of those issues.
“The concern was somebody who wanted to express their opinion on this form would be denied the ability to do so, because maybe somebody suspected it was somebody else or a dual submission,” Kavanagh said.
“So, the obvious solution to ensure the submissions are in the name of the submitter is they simply have to get their submission notarized and send it in,” Kavanagh said.
The bill would require all individuals submitting arguments to submit a sworn, notarized statement to validate their identity.
Arguments submitted by organizations would need notarized statements from two executive officers.
Political committees would need to include the notarized statement of their chairperson or treasurer.
Kavanagh’s proposed legislation would allow individuals – not organizations or PACs – to submit anonymous arguments but they would still be required to submit a notarized statement to verify their identity.
The identifying information would not appear in the pamphlet, though the author’s city or town of residence, which would appear alongside an “Anonymous” signature.
Smith, the resident who first expressed concern over the allegedly fake comments, said she is “pleased to see the issue being addressed in HB 2121” but she did not support the allowance for anonymous comments.
“After giving it some thought, I would like to offer my opinion the ballot pamphlet is no place for anonymous arguments, either in favor or opposing. The pamphlet is a tool that could affect the outcome of an election,” Smith said, adding:
“The public has a right to know who is stating the argument in order to make an informed decision.”
Kavanagh said there are legitimate reasons individuals may want to submit anonymous arguments.
“I added the ability of a person who does this to have anonymous written where the name would appear because we live in a toxic political environment where if people disagree with you, they go after your personal life or your job and has a chilling effect on free speech.”
However, Kavanagh also acknowledged there should be a degree of transparency so voters know if they can trust the information provided in an argument in the voter pamphlet.
“We’re making sure we know the person is who they say they are or if they want to be anonymous, then we can take it into account,” Kavanagh said.
Smith also expressed concern with other wording in the bill, which states: “Any argument submitted and does not comply with this subdivision may not be included in the pamphlet.”
“Election staff should be clear in their instruction,” Smith said. “‘May not’ is open to interpretation.”
“The words ‘shall not’ in this statement provide greater clarity. I would expect taxpayers would appreciate this revision to the bill being submitted without any more possible loopholes,” Smith said.
Another source of contention could be how the notarization requirement affects voters’ ability to submit arguments via the Internet.
The Office of the Maricopa County Superintendent of Schools currently allows individuals to submit arguments through its website, and it is unclear how the proposed notarization requirement would affect online submittals.
This issue did not appear to worry Kavanagh, who said voters may be able to submit PDF files of their notarized statements.
“Even if you couldn’t (submit online), you can buy a postage stamp… if it’s that important to have your opinion heard, you can mail a letter,” he said.