PHOENIX -- A federal judge said efforts by the Green Party to qualify for a place on the Arizona ballot this year may be legally insufficient.
At a hearing Wednesday, attorney Robert Barnes argued there was no way the party could have gathered the more than 23,000 signatures necessary by Feb. 27 to guarantee that the Green Party and its candidates would be on the Aug. 26 primary election ballot. He asked Judge Neil Wake to order the Secretary of State's Office to give him until June 1.
Wake, however, pointed out the deadline for candidates themselves to file their nominating petitions is three days before that. He said that would make it impossible for someone who wants to run under the Green Party banner to get on the ballot.
Barnes responded by suggesting a May 15 deadline.
But Assistant Attorney Michele Forney told Wake that doesn't work, either. She said the Feb. 27 deadline is legally necessary for election officials to check all the signatures and then let candidates for each party know how many nominating signatures they need to run in the primary.
And Forney said the deadline for candidates to file cannot be delayed because of the need to verify those petitions, deal with legal challenges, print ballots and get the first of them mailed out in July.
No one disputed Barnes' contention that the Feb. 27 deadline for parties to qualify for the ballot, 180 days before the primary, may be among the earliest in the nation. But Wake told Barnes that all those deadlines for what has to be done ahead of the primary may trump his demand for extra time.
Wake has to rule soon -- especially if he does decide to give Barnes some extra time. Barnes told the judge that he'll take what he can get, showing up in court with a stack of petitions he said have about 27,000 names, saying he's ready to file as soon as necessary.
The legal fight erupted because Arizona gives political parties continued ballot status only if they maintain a certain number of registered voters.
In November, Secretary of State Ken Bennett announced the Green Party had fallen below the requisite number. He said the only way to get back on was gathering sufficient signatures on petitions -- and turning them in by Feb. 27.
Unable to meet the deadline, the party sued.
At Wednesday's hearing, Barnes acknowledged the various deadline to prepare for the August primary.
But he told Wake he should not worry about that, saying there's no requirement for would-be Green Party candidates to participate in a primary. He said the party could instead have a convention to pick nominees.
Wake, however, said there's nothing in Arizona law that contemplates -- or even allows -- for such a process.
"So what are you asking for, Mr. Barnes, that I make up a new nominating process?' Wake queried. Barnes responded that he sees nothing that precludes that as an option.
The judge, however, suggested he's not about to create a special rule for party conventions, a process that would remove the nominating process from voters.
Wake, who appeared visibly frustrated with Barnes during the hour-long argument, also chastised him for what the judge said was his effort to come up with new legal theories for his claim on the fly, beyond those in the lawsuit.
"You come into court with a different lawsuit than the one you briefed,' Wake said.