Arizona Senate GOP revives controversial election bill

An Arizona Senate committee on March 21 revived and advanced a wide-ranging election bill that would eliminate nearly all forms of early voting and require ballots to be counted by hand.

Republicans passed the bill out of the Senate Government Committee in a 4-3 party-line vote on March 21, but it is almost certain to die in a vote of the full Senate or in the House.

The measure is strongly supported by Republican lawmakers and activists who claim, despite a lack of reliable evidence, that the 2020 election was marred by widespread fraud. Several supporters of the measure cited a variety of false or misleading claims about the election in urging lawmakers to pass the bill.

Democratic groups, meanwhile, have used the bill’s far-reaching provisions to raise money and draw attention to a variety of efforts in Arizona that they say would suppress votes, particularly of people of color and those with low incomes.

"It’s a privilege to assume that because it doesn’t impact you negatively, it's not going to impact somebody down the street negatively," said Sen. Martin Quezada, a Glendale Democrat. "And it does."

The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. John Fillmore of Apache Junction, would eliminate early or absentee voting except for voters who have a disability or expect to be out of state on Election Day. It would require people to vote at a local precinct polling place, which could have no more than 1,500 registered voters. The votes would then be counted by hand, with results required to be released within 24 hours.

"Just because it’s convenient to vote by mail doesn’t mean that is our right," said Sen. Wendy Rogers, a Flagstaff Republican. "Our right is to vote."

Republican Sen. J.D. Mesnard of Chandler, who voted for the bill, said he supports a return to near-universal in-person voting on Election Day, but said it’s highly unlikely voters would allow it in a state where upwards of 80% of voters routinely cast mail ballots. Any bill passed by the Legislature can be referred to the ballot if critics collect enough signatures.

"If that were to happen here, it would go to the ballot, and you have 85% of folks casting a mail-in ballot on whether they get to continue casting mail-in ballot," Mesnard said. "We have our work cut out for us."

He said he’s opposed to banning the use of machines to count ballots, noting it would involve tabulating dozens of races on millions of ballots.

Despite clearing a Senate committee, the measure is highly unlikely to be signed into law. Several Republican senators have joined Democrats to vote down election measures they say go too far. In the House, Republican Speaker Rusty Bowers ensured the defeat of an identical bill earlier this year by assigning it to every House committee, an extraordinary step to erect barriers to its passage.
Meanwhile, Republicans on the committee also voted to advance a measure that would require ballot drop boxes to be monitored by an election worker or a security camera.

GOP Sen. Kelly Townsend of Apache Junction, chair of the Government Committee, also said she plans to issue a new subpoena to Maricopa County for records related to the 2020 election. She said the county has not sufficiently cooperated with a request for records from Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

The Senate first issued a subpoena to Maricopa County after the 2020 election, demanding access to ballots, counting machines and data. Those materials were used in the widely discredited "forensic audit" conducted by supporters of former President Donald Trump on behalf of Senate GOP leaders.

Rep. John Fillmore says, "Members our country has been rocked over the past two years of fundamental voting procedures being called into question, whether you’re a conservative or a progressive there’s always been questioning about the integrity of our voting systems."

He adds, "If voter ID requirements and restrictions on absentee or even mail-in votes are undemocratic, then so is the majority of voting in countries all across Europe and the rest of the developed world."

Those against the bill say it would suppress votes, particularly from people of color and those with low incomes. "This bill – it's just a recipe for complete chaos for Election Day," said Vianey De Anda, civic engagement communications director with Progress Arizona.

She adds, "These are very unrealistic sets for the voters and for our poll workers and everything around our elections and our accessibility to vote. So many attacks left and right."

Looking at the statistics for the November 2020 election, 88% of voters voted early – that includes by mail or in-person. In Maricopa County, early ballots counted for almost 92%.

Gov. Ducey speaks out

As debate over the bill continues, we sat down with Governor Doug Ducey in a wide-ranging interview that includes his position on election-related bills.

Gov. Ducey was asked about efforts from his party to essentially remove early voting in Arizona.

"I have said that that lawsuit was ill-conceived and poorly crafted," said Gov. Ducey. "It would undo the work of decades of Republican governors and secretaries of state. The way it’s written is destined to fail. I want it to be easy to vote and hard, if not impossible, to cheat, and where we can put reforms forward that increase trust and voter integrity, those are policies I’ll sign."

"So, if you were to get legislation in front of your desk to remove early voting or mail-in voting, you would veto that legislation?" Gov. Ducey was asked.

"I don’t comment on policy as it’s moving. My understanding is this was a lawsuit that was field in court. I made my comments on the lawsuit, but I will sign good policy, and you can count I will veto bad policy," said Gov. Ducey.

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