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Updated Jul 26, 2014 - 1:39 pm

Arizona eliminating candidacy signature rule

PHOENIX -- A longtime law that candidates in statewide races collect signatures from at least three counties to qualify for the election ballot will be scrapped, state officials said Thursday.

The Secretary of State's Office announced it would no longer enforce the requirement starting in 2016, the Arizona Capitol Times reported.

Candidates for statewide office or U.S. Senate currently must acquire signatures equal to at least half of one percent of a party's voter registration in a minimum of three counties.

The Arizona Public Integrity Alliance, a nonprofit known for advocating for Republican candidates, filed a lawsuit in federal court on the matter. According to the lawsuit, the requirement violated the Equal Protection Clause under the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment.

The organization argued that the requirement unconstitutionally gives more weight to more crowded counties.

Secretary of State Ken Bennett had previously said under the three-county requirement, candidates were still depending on Maricopa and other counties. For this year's election cycle, a statewide Republican candidate required at least 5,651 signatures for the ballot. But no more than 3,553 could come from Maricopa. But in a smaller county such as Greenlee County, a candidate could only obtain six signatures.

Kory Langhofer, the attorney who represented the alliance, said this resolution means every voter signature will now be given equal treatment.

``I think a majority of campaigns shift their focus away from voters in populous counties in order to satisfy the county base requirement. And that's an injury to every voter in a populous county,'' Langhofer said.

The change means candidates won't have to venture outside of Maricopa County. Langhofer said most candidates already tend to go to Maricopa County to gather most of their signatures.

The change doesn't mean rural counties will be ignored, Langhofer said.

``I think any candidate who never left Pima County or Maricopa County would not be taken seriously by the press or by voters,'' he said.

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Information from: Arizona Capitol Times, http://www.arizonacapitoltimes.com

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