PHOENIX (AP) — A group trying to oust the polarizing sheriff of metropolitan Phoenix faces a Thursday deadline for handing in voter signatures in an uphill battle to force a recall election against the lawman.
Organizers of the recall effort against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio face long odds in turning in the more than 335,000 valid voter signatures required by the 5 p.m. deadline. They have struggled to raise funds, have had to rely on a mostly volunteer workforce to collect signatures and are mounting a campaign against a politician who has a base of devoted supporters.
Arpaio should be booted, they say, because his office has failed to adequately investigate more than 400 sex-crimes cases, has cost the county $25 million in legal settlements over treatment in county jails and his office was found by a federal judge to have systematically racially profiled Latinos in his signature immigration patrols. Critics say the sheriff is more focused on getting publicity for himself than protecting the people.
"We can't allow the sheriff to stay in office four more years," said recall campaign manager Lilia Alvarez. "Why should taxpayers continue to pay his salary, his benefits?"
The recall group said more backers have come forward since the racial profiling decision was handed down on Friday. Supporters have been camped outside a county building since Sunday in their final push.
In the hours before the recall petitions were due, a trickle of people dropped by three tents set up by recall organizers outside the county building to sign petitions. Clipboard-wielding volunteers hit up people walking on the sidewalk for signatures and wore T-shirts that said, "Petition Posse," a play on Arpaio's posses whose volunteer members assist sheriff's deputies in some of their duties.
Recall volunteers had set up a boot-shaped sign that read "Give Arpaio The" and a huge banner, strung between two light poles, that said, "Judge Rules Arpaio Is Racist! Latinos suffer!"
Arpaio supporters say the sheriff won re-election fair and square and that recall organizers shouldn't be allowed to contest the election simply because they don't like the outcome. The sheriff, whose campaign coffers were depleted after spending more than $8 million during the last election cycle, has cited the recall effort in recent fundraising efforts.
"By their own admission, they have a steep hill to climb," Arpaio campaign manager Chad Willems said of recall organizers.
Alvarez would not say Wednesday how many signatures her group has gathered. Five weeks ago, the group said it had collected 200,000 signatures.
The recall effort began just weeks after the 80-year-old Republican sheriff started his sixth term in January. His November re-election race marked the second closest contest in his 20-year political career. He beat the closest candidate by 6 percentage points.
Joshua Spivak, a recall expert and senior fellow at Wagner College in New York, said it's unlikely that the recall campaign will ultimately have enough signatures to force a recall election next year.
A lot of signatures gathered in recall petitions are rejected as invalid, for various reasons, including people signing twice, people who aren't registered Arizona voters signing, and other problems. Recall organizers would realistically need 500,000 signatures to cross the threshold, Spivak said.
"When they say 200,000 signatures, they say 200,000 are valid, but that's a long way from the election commission saying 200,000 are valid," Spivak said. "Everyone thinks the signatures they hand in are valid."
Arpaio, through his campaign manager, 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 that his deputies racially profiled people in traffic patrols targeting immigrants who aren't authorized to be in the country.
County election workers will face a June 10 deadline for determining whether the group has enough signatures to meet the threshold. If there are enough signatures, then election workers will have two months to examine them to determine if they are valid. If enough signatures are valid, a recall election would be set, likely for next March, in which Arpaio would have to run against other candidates.
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 contentious 2010 immigration law. But the scale of the Arpaio recall is more daunting.
Only 7,700 valid signatures were needed to trigger the Pearce recall election.