“This would be throwing money to get a theoretical race,” said Joshua Spivak, a recall expert and senior fellow at Wagner College in New York. “The key is money. People don’t get on the ballot without money.”
Recall organizers are trying to build on the success of a 2011 recall effort that ousted then-Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, an Arpaio ally who was the driving force behind the state’s controversial 2010 immigration law. But the scale of the Arpaio recall is more daunting.
Organizers must turn in more than 335,000 valid voter signatures to force an election. That’s more than the 7,700 needed to force the Pearce recall election and the 216,000 required against former Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham, whose 1998 recall election was scheduled but then cancelled after he was convicted on impeachment charges by the state Senate.
Alvarez said her group has collected 170,000 valid signatures and is aiming for a total of 435,000 signatures by the May deadline — 100,000 more than what is required to offset any names that might be deemed invalid.
Arpaio backers, meantime, aren’t taking the effort lightly.
“We are preparing for the worst. And who knows if they have some buddies out there with deep pockets,” said Arpaio campaign manager Chad Willems, pointing out that labor groups contributed $600,000 to an anti-Arpaio group in last year’s election.
Recall organizers said those groups are using their money this year to push for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration policies.
Arpaio declined an interview request about the recall effort. In the past, the sheriff has apologized for the bungled sex-crimes investigations and said his office has moved to clear up the cases and taken steps to prevent a repeat of the problem. He also has vigorously denied allegations in lawsuits by the U.S. Justice Department and a group of Latinos that his deputies racially profiled people in traffic patrols targeting illegal immigrants.
Arpaio allies have mobilized to try to protect the sheriff.
One group filed a still-pending lawsuit that asks a judge to order an end to the recall effort. And Arpaio allies at the Legislature proposed retroactively adding a primary to recall races — a move that would likely have benefited the sheriff — but the measure was defeated last week in the state Senate.
Arpaio’s campaign committee has paid for its own signature-gatherers to circulate a non-binding petition that opposes the recall effort. Willems said the idea was to have the sheriff’s supporters in the same public space as recall organizers to offer an alternative.
That’s exactly what happened outside the music festival in downtown Phoenix on March 23. Frustrated by their lack of success, recall organizers chose a different spot to try and collect signatures the following day: an anti-bullying event.