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West Valley Republicans miss deadline to replace withdrawn legislative candidate

West Valley Republicans voted Thursday to replace a withdrawn state legislative candidate on the July primary ballot, but election officials say they missed the deadline to hold that vote. 

Rep. Austin Smith (R-Wittman) withdrew from the House of Representatives race in Legislative District 29 in April after facing accusations he forged signatures on his candidate petitions.

State law allows local political parties to pick a new candidate to replace withdrawn candidates, a process that played out in Legislative District 8 on May 13 when Democrats chose Lauren Kuby to replace Rep. Melody Hernandez (D-Tempe), who withdrew from the district’s state Senate primary.

LD 29 Republicans held a similar vote on May 16 to replace Smith. In a 76-23 vote, they chose James Taylor over Amy Heusted to take Smith’s spot on the primary ballot.

But the Secretary of State’s Office says the law requires parties to name those replacements before ballots are printed. And a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Elections Department said that process has already begun and the deadline for parties to replace withdrawn candidates passed on May 13.

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican, also said it is too late to replace Smith on the ballot.

“Board already designed the thousands of ballot styles and sent them to printer,” Richer said on social media.  “This isn’t a thing.”

That leaves Rep. Steve Montenegro (R-Goodyear) as the only Republican who will appear on the ballot in the LD29 Republican Primary, when GOP voters in the district will be asked to pick up to two candidates to fill the two House seats in the district.

Both Taylor and Heusted had announced plans to run write-in campaigns in the Republican primary. If either earns at least 527 write-in votes, they will qualify to have their name printed on the general election ballot. If both pass that threshold, the candidate with the most write-in votes will join Montenegro on the general election ballot. 

Democrats Tanairí Ochoa-Martínez and Tom Tzitzura are also running for the Arizona House in LD29. Typically, Democrats have little chance of winning a seat in the heavily Republican district but, if the Republican write-ins both fail to qualify for the general election ballot, that could give Democrats the opportunity to flip a seat.

The Republican Party of Arizona disagreed with the secretary of state’s decision to reject Taylor’s nomination paper submitted by the LD29 Republicans and said it is prepared to file a lawsuit to challenge the decision, according to a statement issued by the party. 

Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.