PHOENIX (CN) – The federal government said Tuesday it has reached a deal with Arizona after the state failed to give absentee voters enough time to consider final ballots in a special primary election slated for the end of February.
The agreement comes after the Justice Department sued Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan last week, claiming absentee voters were not given 45 days to consider the finalized ballot for a special election to fill a vacancy in the state’s 8th Congressional District.
U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, a Republican, stepped down from the seat in December after he was accused of offering a female staffer $5 million to be a surrogate for his children. Gov. Doug Ducey ordered a special primary election for Feb. 27, with the general election set for April 24.
Under the agreement, absentee ballots mailed to state election officials will be accepted for an extra 10 days after the primary, as long as they are mailed by Feb. 27. Officials are also required to notify absentee voters of this extension.
A large field of candidates coupled with tight deadlines for them to gather necessary signatures to be placed on the ballot meant Reagan sent the ballots only one day before the federally mandated deadline – with a disclaimer that there may be changes.
Those changes came after a supporter of one Democratic candidate, Hiral Tipirneni, filed a legal challenge claiming the other two Democrats in the field did not collect enough signatures. A judge agreed that one candidate, Gene Scharer, did not have enough valid signatures.
Arizona did not delay the election after the judge’s finding and instead sent absentee voters an updated ballot, prompting the Justice Department suit.
“This agreement reflects this Department’s deep commitment to protecting the right to vote for members of our armed forces, their families, and overseas citizens, and ensuring that these voters are afforded a meaningful opportunity to vote in all federal elections, including special vacancy elections,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore in a statement.
A dozen Republicans and two Democrats are running for the seat, with no clear front-runner.
Former Republican state Sens. Debbie Lesko and Steve Montenegro are expected to contend for the position, which represents the largely conservative western portion of Maricopa County. Clair Van Steenwyk, a former radio host who garnered 28 percent of the vote when she ran against Franks in 2016, is also expected to do well in the election.
Tipirneni, an emergency room doctor, is joined by transgender activist Brianna Westbrook on the Democratic ticket. Democrats make up about 24 percent of active voters in the district.