Arizona panel votes to require excuse for early voting

Maricopa County early ballots (file)

Arizona Republicans on Feb. 7 advanced legislation to unwind the state’s overwhelmingly popular early voting system by requiring that voters have a reason and make a request to vote by mail.

The measure aims to steer most voters toward in-person balloting on Election Day, a method used by just 10% of voters in 2020. It would eliminate the Automatic Early Voting List, which allows voters to get a ballot in the mail before every election, and nix in-person early voting and emergency voting before Election Day.

The measure was approved in party-line votes of the Senate Government Committee, setting up a potential debate in the full Senate in the coming weeks.

It’s one of dozens of measures Republican lawmakers are considering to remake the state’s system for casting and counting ballots. Many of the ideas are drawn from the discredited 2020 election review ordered by Senate GOP leaders following former President Donald Trump’s loss in Arizona.

Over the past three decades, Arizona has steadily increased flexibility in the absentee voting system, giving voters a variety of options to cast a ballot. Ninety percent of voters cast a ballot received in the mail in 2020.

The mail voting bill advanced on Monday would go back to older laws requiring voters to have an excuse to vote by mail and request the ballot at least 11 days before the election. Acceptable excuses include that the voter: expects to be absent from the precinct; is physically unable to go to the polls; is 65 years of age or older; lives 15 miles (24 kilometers) from the polling place; or has a religious objection.

The bill also eliminates emergency voting and in-person early voting, so there would be no options for voters who learn shortly before the election that they can’t vote at a polling place.

Sen. David Gowan, a Sierra Vista Republican who sponsored the bill, said it would give voters the opportunity to consider information that arises shortly before the election.

Sen. Martin Quezada, a Glendale Democrat, said there’s no reason to take away a popular option from voters who’ve chosen to vote early. He said it will undoubtedly lead to fewer people voting.

"People should have that voice, and right now we’re taking that away from way too many voters who are utilizing this and really want to keep that choice," Quezada said.

Republicans also approved a separate bill that would not affect mail ballots but would eliminate in-person early voting and emergency voting. It would also make Election Day a state holiday.

They also voted to create new mechanisms for on-site counting of mail ballots for voters who bring them to a polling place and have their identity verified.

GOP lawmakers approved the measures after pleas of support from people sharing a wide variety of false claims suggesting the 2020 election was marred by fraud.

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