Michele Reagan off the hook on election manual complaint

PHOENIX -- Calling her interpretation of the law "at least plausible,' the state attorney general's office won't pursue Michele Reagan for her failure to update the state elections manual this year the way her predecessors have done.

Michael Bailey, the chief deputy, acknowledged Tuesday that the secretary of state adopted what appears to be a unique interpretation of the law requiring her to prepare the manual. That book, now nearly 400 pages, is a virtual bible for election workers on every facet of what the law requires and how to handle different situations.

Put simply, she decided it's OK to simply keep in place for this the 2014 manual prepared by her predecessor despite that not being how prior secretaries of state read the law.

That decision resulted in a complaint by Chandler attorney Tom Ryan to Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

He argued the law says a manual "shall' be updated before every election. And Ryan argued to Brnovich that Reagan's failure made her guilty of a felony.

But Bailey, in his response to Ryan on behalf of Brnovich, said the law is not as clear as Ryan states. And he said that, no matter how you read it, Reagan committed no criminal offense.

"The statute is subject to multiple interpretations,' Bailey wrote.

Looking at it one way, he said, the law would require a new manual every time there was an election, even if there were several in the same year.

"On the other hand, past secretaries of state have interpreted the law to require a new manual every election cycle,' Bailey continued. Here, he said, Reagan takes the position the law imposes no duty to issue a new manual in any given here.

"On that basis the secretary of state made a policy decision to retain the 2014 manual for this year,' Bailey said.

In his response to Ryan, Bailey made no mention of changes in election law that have been enacted since the 2014 manual was released. And he specifically decided not to answer which interpretation of the law is the best.

"We note only that the secretary's interpretation of the statute is at least plausible,' Bailey wrote. And he told Ryan that because election law imposes a felony only for "knowing' or "willful' failure to perform a duty, "there could be no basis for criminal charges.'

Ryan, who has made at least one prior complaint against Reagan, said he's not going to pursue the issue.

"While it seemed a very clear-cut violation to me, the AG's office doesn't see it that way,' he told Capitol Media Services.

Ryan last month complained to Brnovich after Reagan's office failed to send out ballot explanation pamphlets to at least 400,000 registered voters ahead of last month's special election on school finance and change in laws governing public pensions. Brnovich has since appointed a special investigator to find out if any laws were broken and whether civil or criminal charges should be filed against Reagan.

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