The death of state Sen. Chester Crandell throws this year's race for the seat he held into turmoil.
State election officials said Tuesday a closer reading of Arizona law than they did Monday night bars anyone else from trying to get the Republican nomination as a write-in.
“The ballots will not be changed,” said Secretary of State Ken Bennett. He said that means voters in LD 6, which encompasses parts of Yavapai, Coconino, Navajo and Gila counties, remain able to vote for him.
“Any votes for Sen. Crandell will be tabulated,” Bennett explained. “And since he is the only person on the ballot in the Republican primary for that Senate seat, it's expected that he would win the primary.”
At that point, Bennett said, it will be up to GOP precinct committeemen from within the legislative district to vote on whose name should appear on the general election ballot as the Republican nominee.
There still will be a race — eventually.
Whoever party workers choose to replace Crandell will have to face off against Tom O'Halleran of Sedona. He used to be a Republican legislator but has qualified to run in November as an independent.
But Bennett said it could get even more complex than that. He said party workers could nominate either Brenda Barton or Bob Thorpe, both of whom now represent the same legislative district in the House — and both of whom are candidates for their own reelection campaigns. Having someone who already is holding office might be the best way for Republicans to hold off what could now be a stronger challenge from O'Halleran who served in both the House and Senate before being defeated in the 2008 Republican primary by Steve Pierce.
If that happens, Bennett said the precinct committeemen then would have to name someone as a ballot replacement for the now-vacant GOP slot for the House race. But he also said there is enough time before the Nov. 4 general election for someone to file to run as a write-in for that race.
Thorpe said his focus now is on Crandell's family.
But Thorpe said he understands why the party might want an incumbent to go up against O'Halleran. He said if party workers want him to run, "it would be an honor to do it.''
Barton did not immediately return calls.
The legal conclusions on what happens now comes less than 24 hours after the secretary of state's office said any Republican could run as a write-in candidate for the GOP nomination. The only requirement was that this person declare his or her candidacy at least five days before the Aug. 26 primary.
But Bennett said the Legislature altered the law in 2011 after state Sen. Jorge Garcia, D-Tucson, died less than a month before the 2010 general election in which he was a candidate for the Arizona Corporation Commission. Bennett said he supported that change, at least in part because people can actually start voting a month before election day.
“We felt it was honoring that candidate and the voters who have already started to cast ballots probably for that candidate and others, to let that process play out,” he said.
Crandell's death could be a boost for O'Halleran, a former Chicago police detective, who served six years in the state House and two in the Senate before that 2008 GOP primary loss.
He was considered one of the more moderate Republicans at the Capitol, often breaking with party leaders over issues. He and a few other Republicans sided with Democrats on some key issues, including more funds for education.
In 2004 House Speaker Jake Flake stripped him of his chairmanship of the Committee on Natural Resources and Agriculture because O'Halleran had worked the prior year to get more money for Child Protective Services over the objections of the House GOP leadership. The same fate befell Rep. Pete Hershberger of Tucson who had headed the Human Services Committee.
Geography could be a factor in the race.
The legislative district O'Halleran represented before no longer exists. When the lines were redrawn in 2011, Sedona, which had been part of a district with the Prescott area, got drawn into LD 6, along with Cottonwood, Camp Verde and suburban areas outside of Flagstaff.
An entirely separate process will be at work for filling Crandell's unexpired term. While a special legislative session is not currently contemplated, state law requires a replacement.
In that case, the Republican party workers from only the Navajo County portion of the legislative district — where Crandell lived — to submit three names to the board of supervisors. The board must choose from that list.
The board could choose Barton or Thorpe if either is nominated. But that, then, creates yet another legislative vacancy which would have to be filled.