An election worker removes tabulated ballots
Republicans have filed at least 78 election lawsuits so far this year. Matt York/AP

The GOP Has Filed a Flurry of Lawsuits in Arizona, Months Ahead of the Election

The suits are part of a broader national trend.

Election lawsuits in Arizona have started flying, months ahead of voting.

Republicans and conservative groups — who have filed a spate of suits against the state over a document known as the “election bible” or the Elections Procedures Manual (EPM) in the last month — say it’s likely only a small taste of the fights to come. Since 2020, Arizona has become a hotbed for election-related lawsuits and 2024 is shaping up to be no different. In fact, the process is starting much earlier than usual.

The EPM is an approximately 300-page manual that the secretary of state issues, by law, that details all the ins and outs of running an election and counting the votes, like what to do on Election Day, certifying the results and how to accommodate voters with special needs. Three of the five new Arizona lawsuits target provisions of the EPM that, among other things, make it easier to vote by mail and deal with harassment and intimidation at polling locations.

Kory Langhofer, a lawyer for the legislature who brought a suit against Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes in late January against portions of the EPM, argued that being proactive about lawsuits would mean a less chaotic November.

“In the past, people had not brought challenges early in the cycle and then tried to litigate everything after the voting was done,” Langhofer told NOTUS. “That’s very messy and generally doesn’t work. The fact that everyone is showing up in court now, means the elections will not be subject to a bunch of retrospective criticism.”

The lawsuits in Arizona are part of a broader national trend: Republicans have filed at least 78 election lawsuits so far this year.

The Democratic National Committee and the Arizona Democratic Party took legal action earlier this month to prevent the nullification of all or sections of the EPM. Marc Elias, a prominent Democratic election lawyer, wrote recently that Republicans’ legal strategy in Arizona and elsewhere “could have profound consequences for voters, elections and democracy.”

“Republicans have embarked on a scorched earth litigation strategy to disenfranchise Arizona voters, encourage voter intimidation and subvert the results in the Grand Canyon State,” he wrote on his website, Democracy Docket.

In the aftermath of the 2020 and 2022 elections, Republicans filed and subsequently lost many election challenges, something some in the party said was because they went to court “too late,” one Republican election attorney in Arizona told NOTUS.

Another national election lawyer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told NOTUS there has been a proliferation of lawsuits from both sides of the aisle in recent years, in part because of a change in the law about a decade ago where parties could raise money specifically for legal expenses. As a result, there are now dedicated funds that can only be utilized for that specific purpose.

The election lawyer says these lawsuits cause a further erosion of trust in the election process.

“There’s a huge downside because it gives voters the impression that the system isn’t reliable and that it is flawed and that the rules of the road are titled to one party or another so the losing side has less faith in the outcome of the elections.”

The lawsuit brought by the national, state and local Republicans seeks to nullify the new EPM, as they contend that Fontes did not give the public sufficient time to comment on the proposed changes, allowing 15 days instead of the 30 required last year. The manual was released in late December and approved by Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs and Attorney General Kris Mayes, also a Democrat.

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Fontes updated some of the EPM guidelines Republicans are challenging after a series of incidents in 2022, where masked people sat in parking lots at ballot drop boxes with weapons.

“This is a blatant attempt to rewrite election law and hollow out basic safeguards that are designed to preserve election integrity in our state’s elections,” new Arizona GOP Chair Gina Swoboda said of the EPM in a written statement earlier this month. New guidelines around polling intimidation would violate peoples’ First Amendment rights, some of the plaintiffs argue.

Not all Republicans were critical of Fontes.

Former Republican Secretary of State Betsey Bayless said that at least parts of the lawsuits are “frivolous,” citing: “whether the secretary of state has the right to prohibit long rifles within a certain distance of the drop box polling places.”

“I don’t know why you would want to take a long rifle there anyways,” she said.

She also praised how Fontes handled revising the EPM.

“It is critical when you’re developing that procedures manual that you work very, very closely with the attorney general. This secretary of state, Adrian Fontes, he did,” Bayless told NOTUS.

Tara Kavaler is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.