A federal judge refused late Thursday to remove the names of nine candidates the Green Party disavows as its own from the general election ballot.
But they still may not get to run for office.
U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell said he cannot say just yet whether the nine contenders are "sham'' candidates as Green Party alleges. And the judge said he's not sure that gives him the power to stop them from running as official nominees just because party officials object to their views.
But Campbell said what is clear is that issuing what amounts to an emergency order now removing their names from the ballot, before a full-blown hearing on the merits of the case, would not be fair to the candidates themselves.
He noted several counties are set to begin printing ballots today. Once they are printed, it would be too late to put the candidates' names back on the ballot if, after that hearing, he concludes they are entitled to run.
Thursday's order, however, doesn't end the legal fight.
Campbell rejected a request by attorneys for several counties to throw out the lawsuit entirely. Instead, he wants to hear from both sides what they think should happen next.
That leaves the door open for Keith Beauchamp, the Green Party's attorney, to argue that none of the votes cast for the nine disputed candidates should be counted when the votes are tallied on Nov. 2.
But by that point, some of the damage will have been done.
At the center of the lawsuit is Beauchamp's claim the nine contenders are not true Green Party members but instead were induced to register that way. That let them take advantage of a loophole in the law that allowed them to become Green Party nominees with just one write-in vote: their own.
Beauchamp said what makes that particularly offensive -- and he believes illegal -- is that these people were enticed to register and run as Green Party candidates by Republicans, "part of a plan to pervert our message and hurt the Democrats.''
He said Republicans figure any vote for a Green Party candidate is a vote that otherwise would have gone to a Democrat. The net result, Beauchamp said, is to give a leg-up to Republicans.
Now, with the judge refusing to block the ballots from being printed, that leaves Beauchamp with only one option: Ask that votes for them not be counted.
If Campbell were to agree, county officials would have to post notice at each of the more than 2,000 polling places informing voters that while these names remain on the ballot, any votes for them won't count.
That, however, hasn't proven particular effective: More than 36,000 Arizonans voted last month to make Dean Martin the Republican nominee for governor even though he had withdrawn his name and signs were posted in polling places, votes that otherwise would have gone to someone else.
Whether Campbell is willing to go even that far, however, remains in doubt.
Beauchamp told the judge these nine -- there originally were 11 but two dropped out -- are not true Green Party members, and not only because of their late registrations. He said their position on issues is directly contrary to those of the party.
For example, Anthony Goshorn, a contender for the state Senate in District 17, the Tempe area, said he supports God in the classroom. And congressional hopeful Richard Grayson has a swastika on his web site.
But Campbell said that does not disqualify them from deciding to run as Green Party candidates, even over the objections of party officials.
"Candidates often run for office as members of particular political parties whose views they do not wholly embrace,'' the judge wrote.
While the Green Party filed suit in federal court, the Arizona Democratic Party is attacking the problem elsewhere.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Maricopa County Superior Court, attorney Paul Eckstein said Arizona voters will be "deceived, misled and confused'' about the true nature of the campaigns of the Green Party write-in candidates which will affect the "purity'' of the general election. He wants Judge Robert Oberbillig to erase the candidates' names from the ballot.
That, however, may come too late: Officials in the state's two largest counties said printing will begin today.
Aside from Goshorn and Grayson, the Green Party also is challenging the nomination of Thomas Meadows for state treasurer, Theodore Gomez and Benjamin Pearcy who are running for the two open seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission, one other congressional candidate and four legislative contenders.
The lawsuit is not contesting the successful write-in efforts of to others who Beauchamp said are considered true members of the Green Party.