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Dead Men Don't Vote 

Or sign Justice of the Peace candidate Armando Ronquillo's petitions, a court rules.

It is not known whether Armando and Lori Ronquillo gathered supporters of Armando's maiden political voyage around a table at their Catalina foothills home for a séance.

What is known is that someone gained the power, or channel, to reach far past normal political door-knocking to, well, The Beyond, to get dead men signing.

Ronquillo, once a teacher and counselor who sought the Republican nomination for Justice of the Peace in the foothills Justice Precinct 1, submitted petitions with 802 signatures to the Pima County Division of Elections on June 12.

Included were the late John Dunning Tearse, R. Charles Dostal and Michael Sherman.

Tearse purportedly signed Ronquillo's petition before May 17, when Ronquillo formally became a candidate, but about a year after he died. Dostal similarly signed about a year after his death. And Sherman was dead for more than two years before his fresh signature appeared on Ronquillo's petitions.

These were the most egregious of what Gary S. Kneip, attorney for Ronquillo's would-be opponent and now presumptive Justice of the Peace Jim Angiulo, said was the "most egregious" case of political petition fraud in memory.

Kneip should know. Eight years ago, Kneip represented Bob Gibson, the popular four-term Justice of the Peace and former sheriff's commander whom Angiulo will replace, when onetime television sports reader Thom Boyd mounted a defective election challenge.

Ronquillo, 55, became a Republican less than two years ago, while Angiulo, also 55, is a Republican stalwart. He also is a longtime friend of Gibson who has been primed for the job. A doctor, he served as head of anesthesiology at the county's Kino Community Hospital for 23 years, and received his law degree with honors from the College of Law at the University of Arizona in 1985.

Kneip said Angiulo was absolutely the "wrong guy" for Ronquillo to run against with petitions produced at a signing party. Angiulo, experienced as a Sahuarita magistrate as well as a part-time judge in Superior and Justice courts, did the first line-by-line examination of the Ronquillo petitions.

Poring over voter lists at the county Recorder's Office, in the mosaic-domed Old County Courthouse that also houses Justice Court, Angiulo found duplicates, names of those who had previously signed his petition, those from people living outside the precinct and others from people living outside the GOP.

Kneip said he yelled "stop" when the list of bad signatures hit 459. They deployed investigator Weaver Barkman, a former sheriff's deputy, to round up denials from other voters surprised to learn that their names appeared on Ronquillo's petitions.

When they filed a lawsuit to formally challenge Ronquillo's place on the ballot, further investigation by Christopher Roads, voter registrar under Democratic Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez, revealed more trouble. Roads stacked that evidence at a hearing before Superior Court Judge Paul Tang last week.

Tang, in his second year on the bench and a former counsel to the Pima County Republican Party, seemed wary of a line-by-line examination. He then jokingly told Roads he was "more than welcome" to bring the box with him to the witness stand. Kneip and Roads, the lone witness, left little doubt about the quality of Ronquillo's petitions.

What was it, Kneip asked, about this signature on line one of page 48?

Mr. Sherman, Roads explained, was off the active voter list.

Why?

He died in January 2000.

Kneip led Roads through duplicates and a stack of other signatures that Roads testified were obvious forgeries because they didn't resemble the signatures on voter registration forms on file in the Recorder's Office. One "signer" had moved to Texas well before Ronquillo's candidacy.

Some duplicates on Ronquillo's petition included multiple spellings. Roads, a former deputy county attorney, was drawn to the signature of Deborah Darling, a woman he knows. The Ronquillo petition also contained a Debora Darlyng.

From the bench, Tang found that 518 of Ronquillo's 802 signatures-65 percent-were no good. Candidates for that office needed 680 valid signatures. The presumption that 284 were valid is only because they were not checked by Roads and his staff, who devoted 45 hours to the job.

Kneip pressed for Tang to invoke an Arizona law that bans people guilty of petition or campaign finance wrongdoing from seeking office.

"Banish," Kneip emphasized in court. "That's not something you get to do very often."

Tang did bar Ronquillo, who also has worked in outreach for UA public health, from this ballot and from seeking elected office for at least five years.

Ronquillo neither appeared in court or responded to Tucson Weekly messages. He attempted before the hearing to withdraw from the race by calling county elections officials. He faces further penalties and costs when Tang conducts another hearing Aug. 19. And he faces likely prosecution from the County Attorney's Office.

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