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New system puts signing nominating petitions just a click away

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PHOENIX – The Arizona Secretary of State’s Office unveiled a new system Monday allowing candidates for state Legislature and statewide offices to collect nominating petition signatures online.

“Instead of candidates and their families or volunteers having to stand in front of grocery stores, they can have a link on their site where folks can in a couple of clicks go right to their petition, Secretary of State Ken Bennett said.

Candidates can use the system, dubbed E-Qual, to obtain half of their qualifying signatures. Voters also can use the system to make $5 qualifying contributions to candidates receiving public campaign financing through Clean Elections.

E-qual uses the same technology as Service Arizona’s EZ Voter Registration, which has been in use since 2002. Bennett said that system has had about 4 million users and no security issues.

“Many of our citizens do so much on the Internet – shop, pay their mortgage, do their banking,” he said. “This is just another aspect of their life that makes it easier to participate in the democratic and political process.”

Bennett said signatures and contributions submitted through E-Qual should be clean, but he noted that the system won’t eliminate challenges.

“We believe that those who are signing the petitions electronically will almost always be good,” he said. “But there is still a possibility that the voter signed on a duplicate paper form, so there will still be a process in which candidates are able to challenge those electronic signatures.”

Approved by the Legislature in 2011, E-Qual expires by law in 2014.

“I think this is a great tool for the voters in Arizona,” said Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, who sponsored the legislation. “Obviously, a great tool in our democratic process, and this is one convenient way in which voters can participate.”

To sign petitions or give $5 qualifying donations, voters go to the secretary of state’s website, sign in with their driver’s licenses or voter ID numbers and verify their addresses. A list of candidates in a voter’s district and the offices sought will be displayed. The process takes a few clicks to complete.

Candidates will know who signed a petition or donated money and are required to print out the signatures and contribution lists to the Secretary of State’s Office by the deadline.

Bennett said he’s optimistic about the future of E-Qual.

“We’ll have to see,” he said. “We hope that it’s successful for both the voters and the candidates. And if it is, maybe the Legislature will consider extending the program and-or the 50 percent threshold.”