Arizona initiative would require ID with mail ballots

Conservative groups and Republican lawmakers said Aug. 17 they will ask Arizona voters to approve a voter-identification requirement for mail-in ballots, potentially creating a significant new voting requirement in a crucial battleground state.

The measure is the latest GOP effort to impose new voting restrictions following Donald Trump’s baseless claims that he lost the 2020 presidential race because of fraud.

"There’s a confidence crisis among many people," said Republican Sen. J.D. Mesnard, one of the lawmakers supporting the initiative. "How it came to be is somewhat immaterial to the fact that it exists, and by virtue of it existing is a threat to democracy."

Nearly 90% of Arizona voters cast ballots they receive in the mail. Voting-rights advocates say imposing new requirements on those voters is inevitably going to lead some votes to be left uncounted.

The fight over who can vote and how has galvanized the Republican Party in the post-Trump era, with a powerful network of conservatives rallying around "election integrity" measures in many states. The proposed Arizona initiative is backed by influential and deep-pocketed groups, including the Free Enterprise Club and Heritage Action.

Doubts about the integrity of the election are fueled by groups on the right pushing conspiracy theories about what happened in 2020, said Alex Gulotta, Arizona state director for All Voting is Local, a voting-rights group. Election experts and cybersecurity officials have said repeatedly the election was secure and there was no widespread fraud.

"Its beyond nonsensical that you create a problem and then you now have to create a solution to the problem you created," Gulotta said. "The problem wasn’t with our election. It was with the lies people were able to tell about our election."

Republicans are turning to the 2022 ballot box after a similar proposal, sponsored by Mesnard, failed in the Legislature amid opposition from a handful of GOP lawmakers this year. They will have to collect 237,645 signatures from registered voters by July 7, 2022, and the proposal would become law if a majority of voters approve.

maricopa county early ballot

Maricopa County early ballots (file)

Arizona already requires in-person voters to show ID, whether they vote on Election Day or at an early voting center. Those who vote by mail have their identify verified by matching their signature on the ballot envelope to one on file.

Supporters of the initiative say similar ID requirements should also apply to people who vote by mail. The initiative would require voters to supply their birthday along with the last four digits of their Social Security number or the number from their driver’s license, state-issued ID or voter registration. If the numbers don’t match, they’d have until five days after the election to correct the problem or their ballot would not be counted.

On top of those requirements, voters who drop off ballots at a polling place on Election Day would have to wait in line and show their ID to poll workers, eliminating one of the major benefits that has contributed to the popularity of mail voting. Those returning mail ballots can currently skip the line and drop them in a collection box.

Election Day identification would require a photo; an option to show utility bills would be eliminated.

Critics say existing signature verification procedures are secure, and adding new requirements introduces opportunities for people to make mistakes and miss out on having their votes counted.

An Associated Press investigation found 182 cases where problems were clear enough that officials referred them to investigators for further review. Only a fraction have so far led to criminal charges.

Meanwhile, several voting rights groups filed a lawsuit challenging two bills approved earlier this year by Republican lawmakers and Gov. Doug Ducey. One bill purges people from the permanent early voter list if they don’t return their mail ballot for two consecutive election cycles.

The other requires that mail ballots be signed by 7 p.m. on Election Day for the ballot to count, banning a five-day curing period after the polls close. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs tried unsuccessfully to implement the curing period to settle a lawsuit filed by the Navajo Nation.

The suit was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Phoenix by Mi Familia Vota, Arizona Coalition for Change, Living United for Change in Arizona and Chispa, an arm of the League of Conservation Voters.

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