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Updated Oct 2, 2013 - 7:00 pm

Group wants some election law petitions tossed

PHOENIX -- A group supporting a sweeping new Republican-backed election law wants the Secretary of State's office to invalidate some petitions demanding a voter referendum.

Wednesday's letter from lawyers for a group calling itself Stop Voter Fraud demanded that Secretary of State Ken Bennett throw out signatures on petitions collected by four circulators because they're allegedly felons.

Bennett spokesman Matt Roberts said the Secretary of State by law can't toss the petitions.

``They're asking us to do things that we're not statutorily able to do,'' Roberts said. ``Usually these things move through the courts and I expect this to be no different.''

The bill was backed by Republicans and passed in the last hours of the legislative session in June over the opposition of Democrats. They called it a thinly veiled effort to keep Republicans in power by creating new hurdles for low-income voters and some candidates.

The legislation seeks to trim Arizona's permanent early voting list and limit who may return mail-in ballots for voters. It also ups the number of signatures third-party candidates must gather to appear on the ballot, among a host of other provisions.

Democratic lawmakers, voting rights groups and third-party politicians had fought the measure and created a coalition to collect signatures once it passed. They turned in more than 146,000 signatures on Sept. 11.

More than 139,000 valid signatures have been certified and counties have nearly three weeks to check samples against voter records. Less than 85,000 valid signatures are needed to block the new election law and put it on the November 2014 ballot.

Protect Your Right to Vote spokesman Robbie Sherwood said the small number of signatures disallowed during the Secretary of State's initial review- about 7,000- showed that organizers of the effort to block the law were extremely care in their efforts.

``Which is outstanding under strict compliance, where they use every possible technicality to throw out a whole sheet of signatures,'' Sherwood said. ``We're very happy with that.''

The letter from attorney Michael T. Liburdi of the Phoenix firm Snell & Wilmer LLC asked Bennett to reject signature sheets gathered by the four alleged felons. The letter said Bennett should act to avoid forcing ``all parties to have to litigate this cut-and-dry violation of Arizona law later on in Superior Court. It gave Bennett until Friday to respond.

Sherwood said two of the circulators named in the letter didn't even collect signatures and they'll defend the others from challenges.

``They can make any accusation they want in court and we will meet them, in court,'' he said.

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