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Maricopa County agrees to include contested GOP candidate on primary ballot

Maricopa County has agreed to let Republicans in Legislative District 29 replace a West Valley candidate who withdrew from the July 30 primary.

Republicans in LD29 voted on May 16 to add James Taylor to the ballot to replace Rep. Austin Smith (R-Wittman). Smith dropped out of the race for the district’s two seats in the Arizona House of Representatives rather than fight allegations he forged signatures on the candidate petitions he filed to qualify for the ballot.

State law allows local political parties to replace withdrawn candidates, but it says they must do so before the county prints ballots. Maricopa County officials argued that deadline passed before the LD29 vote.

Rosa Aguilar, an attorney for Maricopa County, told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joan Sinclair that the county started the printing process on May 13, days before LD29 Republicans attempted to submit Taylor’s nomination to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office.

“The county then began the ballot-printing process and actually began printing the ballots in order to prove them on May 16,” Aguilar said.

Sinclair issued a temporary restraining order to pause the county’s ballot preparation process pending a hearing in the case that was scheduled for Wednesday morning.

Hours later, Maricopa County agreed to settle the case and place Taylor on the ballot – but not because county officials changed their opinion that the LD29 GOP missed that May 13 deadline.

Instead, according to a statement, the county found it had accidentally included a withdrawn Paradise Valley Town Council candidate on ballot proofs, meaning it would have to restart the proofing and printing process anyway.

“Election administration contains checks and balances to ensure the accuracy of ballots,” according to the statement. “With the printing process now restarting, Maricopa County Elections has asked the Secretary of State’s Office to accept Mr. Taylor as a candidate, so he may be added to Maricopa County’s Republican ballot for State Representative for LD29 pending the court vacating the temporary restraining order.”

Rep. Alexander Kolodin, the attorney representing the Maricopa County Republican Committee, praised the settlement.

“James Taylor will be on the ballot in LD29 thanks to great work by [Maricopa County Republican Committee]!” Kolodin wrote on social media. “Was an honor to represent you!”

Restarting the printing process could complicate the county’s administration of the July primary.

During the court hearing, Aguilar, the county’s attorney, said that if the county was forced to add Taylor to the ballot and restart the printing process, it would negate 15 days of ballot preparations, which could result in errors on ballots and missed deadlines.

“And so there would be great harm in pausing that process in terms of the state and federal deadlines for mailing the ballots to early voters and active military and overseas voters,” she said.

June 15 is the last day for the county to mail ballots to overseas and military voters.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been update to reflect details of settlement between Maricopa County and Maricopa County Republican Committee to place James Taylor on the ballot.

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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.