An Arizona Superior Court judge bounced one local school board candidate from the November ballot Friday but allowed another to stay, just barely, after lawsuits alleged they hadn’t collected enough valid signatures to run for office.
Tucson Unified School District Governing Board member Michael Hicks will have a shot at winning a third term on the board of Tucson’s largest school district after Judge Brendan J. Griffin found enough of the 518 signatures Hicks filed to run for office were valid. Hicks just barely made it: He needed 400 valid signatures from registered voters within TUSD boundaries, and 407 were deemed valid.
Felicia Chew, a one-time Tucson City Council candidate who is seeking a spot on the Amphitheater Unified School District board, was kicked off the ballot Friday after she came up short of the minimum number of signatures.
Chew filed 451 signatures to run for the office, but her opponent, former Democratic state lawmaker Matt Kopec, who is also seeking a seat on the board, filed a suit alleging many of the signatures were collected from people who weren’t registered to vote or lived outside the Amphitheater district boundaries.
Griffin ruled that 105 of her signatures were invalid, leaving Chew 41 signatures short of qualifying for the ballot in Amphitheater.
With Chew knocked off the ballot, the election will be canceled for lack of competition. Incumbent school board member Susan Zibrat will win re-election without a challenge, and Kopec will join the board without receiving a single vote.
After the decision, Chew tweeted, “We fought the law ... and the law won.”
“This means there will be no election for the Amphitheater School Board, no voice and no choice for voters,” she wrote in a blog post that urged her supporters to appeal to the court and lawmakers and to recall board members or perform civil disobedience to express their displeasure with the decision.
Kopec said if Chew couldn’t get the minimum number of signatures to qualify, she doesn’t deserve to be on the school board.
“As a school board candidate in Arizona, it’s the only bar you have to clear,” he said.
Amphitheater joined a host of local school districts that will cancel their elections this November because there aren’t enough candidates interested in the job.
The Sunnyside Unified School District may be next. On the Sunnyside school board, two seats are open, and three people submitted signatures to run. To qualify, candidates must get 148 valid signatures.
Gabriel Morales filed 165, and 99 are being challenged for a variety of reasons. He is due in court Tuesday for a hearing on the issue.
Hicks, who previously said the TUSD board was so dysfunctional that the challenge to his candidacy might be a “blessing in disguise” hired attorneys from Munger Chadwick to defend him. They beat back arguments from former TUSD board member Joel Ireland, who brought the challenge, and attorney Vince Rabago, who argued that many of Hicks’ signatures were invalid because the signers used names that varied from the names they registered to vote with or signed with different addresses than were on file at the Pima County Recorder’s Office.
Griffin didn’t buy that argument, saying as long as the petitions were signed by verifiable registered voters in TUSD, their signatures should be counted.
In one example, a person signed Hicks’ petition with the first name Charlotte, though the first name on file was Gary.
But by researching the person’s signature and address, Chief Deputy County Recorder Christopher Roads said the office could determine it was actually the same person.
“Gary became Charlotte, but it’s the same person, as determined by the signature” and address, he said.