Independent candidate for Arizona State Senate Dr Mark Syms has been removed from the ballot for submitting too many fraudulent petition signatures.
Dr Mark Syms? The judge will see you now
Mark Syms entered the race for the Arizona Legislative District 28 (LD28) as an independent candidate just a few weeks before the June 1st deadline. To get a place on the ballot he needed 1,250 valid signatures from registered voters in the district. As is standard practice for most candidates, he also collected hundreds of extras in case any signatures were disqualified. By deadline day he had submitted an impressive 2,158 in total, but on Friday 1,675 were determined to be fraudulent by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Coury. The signatures submitted and those on file in voter records simply did not match.
According to Judge Coury, there was “clear and convincing evidence” that Syms, now well short of the required valid signature count, should be removed from the November 6th general election ballot.
In a ruling he released on Friday evening Judge Coury wrote, “The conclusion that signatures did not match voter records is corroborated by other evidence which strongly suggests that the signature collectors forged or somehow otherwise engaged in fraudulent practices while gathering signatures.”
Most problematic for Syms’ case was that of Maria Brnovich, who publicly stated that she had never signed his petition despite a signature being submitted in her name. Mrs Brnovich’s son, Mark Brnovich, is the Attorney General of Arizona.
In a statement issued after his mother’s fake signature was discovered, Attorney General Brnovich said, “Integrity in our elections is a cornerstone of our electoral process. I learned this weekend that my mother’s signature had been forged by an individual collecting signatures for a campaign, and I’m deeply disturbed and disappointed…If the attorney general’s mother can fall victim to petition fraud, this shows the unfortunate truth that it can happen to anyone.”
Maria Syms’ tale of sound and fury
Mark Syms’ true motivation for running as an independent has always been the subject of speculation. As a well-respected and prominent local doctor with a history of public service (and coming from a Republican family) it seemed to many commentators like an odd play. Also suspicious was his lack of campaign website, Twitter account, or Facebook page.
An outside-shot at best, the biggest impact of Mark Syms’ entry into the race was inserting extra uncertainty in the highly competitive LD28 Senate race. Even if he only netted a few percentage points of the final vote tally, many expected his votes would largely be siphoned away from Republican incumbent Senator Kate Brophy McGee. In a highly competitive district like LD28, that might have made it impossible for McGee to win.
And that, many thought, was exactly what Mark Syms’ wife, State Representative Maria Syms, wanted. Maria Syms and McGee are well known political rivals.
Republican Maria Syms represents the same district (LD28) McGee does but in the Arizona House (in Arizona each district elects one Senator and two Representatives). To win reelection in November, Maria Syms needs to win a “top-two” open race. When she was the only Republican running in a swing district, her chances looked very good.
But her chances grew substantially worse when McGee-ally and fellow Republican Kathy Petsas filed for the LD28 House race as well. As a much more moderate voice, Petsas has a great opportunity to appeal to voters in the marginal district over the more conservative-leaning Syms.
Petsas entered the race a few weeks before the filing deadline, which must have been extremely annoying for Maria Syms. Just after Petsas’ entry into the LD28 House race, her husband Mark Syms suddenly decided he wanted to take a longshot independent run for the LD28 Senate seat (and in the process possibly scupper the reelection bid of Petsas’ ally Senator McGee). Coincidence? Sure.
But Mark Syms could not hurt McGee’s chances until he got on the ballot, and to do that he would need 1,250 valid signatures in a few weeks. It is a huge task for a political newbie with no campaign infrastructure, so unsurprisingly he hired an outside firm to do the dirty work for him. The results turned out to be dirty too, which left the Syms in an embarrassing position.
Now with Mark Syms off the ballot, Maria Syms is still facing tough competition. And she will not get the chance to watch her husband make life tough for McGee either.
Forgetting the 11th Commandment
In his autobiography An American Life, President Ronald Reagan credited former California GOP chair Gaylord Parkinson with postulating the 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of thy fellow Republican.”
If Maria Syms really did try to engineer McGee’s downfall, she will have done something far worse than speak ill of a fellow Republican. Undermining a Republican incumbent in a key swing seat like LD28 would have risked Republican control of the entire State Senate this November.
Arizona GOP chairman Jonathan Lines recently tweeted his frustration:
It is time for Mark Syms to end this sad and vindictive charade. Voter fraud is a serious problem. Syms must do the right thing and immediately withdraw his candidacy. Then, we must get to the bottom of who exactly was responsible for over 1,000 fraudulent signatures being filed.
— Jonathan W. Lines (@JWLines) 21 June 2018
If Maria Syms is successfully reelected back to the Arizona House in November, she may wish she had stuck to just breaking the 11th Commandment.