Lawsuits and mistakes in Valley's special election

GLENDALE, AZ - Two West Valley Democrats running in a Congressional special election now face legal challenges to their candidacy.

Lawsuits were filed Thursday alleging Brianna Westbrook and Gene Scharer failed to file enough valid nominating petition signatures to be included on the ballot.

They are running for the U.S. House seat vacated by Trent Franks. The Glendale Republican resigned from his seat in the 8th district last month after a scandal. He allegedly asked staffers to serve as surrogate mothers. The primary election to replace him is February 27.

Complicating the lawsuits, some ballots for the election were already sent out to overseas and military voters. A third Democrat, Hiral Tipirneni, does not face a legal challenge and remains on the ballot.

Meanwhile, one small omission could have up-ended the campaigns of most of the Republican candidates in the West Valley congressional race.

Just two of the 12 Republicans currently running included a phrase about the end date of the term on their petitions. State law requires it in special elections. One former candidate criticizing the Secretary of State, whose office provided blank petition forms, and he says the office staff even helped him fill out the forms wrong. 

"You have a lawyer, perhaps more than one, working in the Secretary of State office who are specialists in election law, and they failed to change their form to make sure each candidate had the appropriate language," Kevin Cavanaugh said.

The errors made 10 candidates vulnerable to a legal challenge to kick them off the ballot; however, the deadline to file those challenges was 5 p.m. Thursday.  

A spokesman for the Secretary of State's office called Cavanaugh's complaint "pathetically misplaced."

“We did not give him incorrect information," spokesman Matthew Roberts said. "In fact, this office does not give out any legal advice as to how to interpret state statute, nor do we ask if they actually read the law." 
 
Roberts added, “Candidates themselves fill in the blanks on the form."

Lawsuits would have caused havoc, but election lawyers say challenges to the Republicans would have been hard to win because voters were not likely harmed by the omissions.

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