Controversial Arizona election bill dies amid GOP infighting

The Arizona Senate on Thursday voted down an election bill that critics deride as an attempt at voter suppression because of infighting among Republicans. But the measure could come back at a later date.

The measure would purge inconsistent voters from the popular permanent early voting list. It’s one of the most contentious election bills moving in Arizona as Republicans in key states look to remake election procedures in the wake of President Donald Trump’s loss last year.

Republican Sen. Kelly Townsend of Mesa joined all Democrats in voting not to send the bill to Gov. Doug Ducey. She said she supported it but wants to see the Legislature be far more aggressive in shoring up election integrity.

Repeated reviews have found no problems with the election results in Arizona or elsewhere, but many Trump supporters still believe his loss was the result of fraudulent activities.

The Senate is preparing to begin a hand recount of more than 2 million ballots cast in Maricopa County as part of a sprawling review of the vote count in one of the nation’s fourth-largest county, which includes metro Phoenix.

Related: Arizona Senate Republicans begin months-long 2020 election audit at Veterans Memorial Coliseum

Townsend said she wants to make sure the Legislature doesn’t adjourn before the results of the Senate’s audit, in case the Republican majority decides more bills are needed. Democrats, election administrators, and voting rights advocates have derided the audit as unnecessary. The audit is being led by a firm owned by a man who has shared unfounded conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.

"I have given my commitment to my constituents that we will fix all election integrity, not just this issue," Townsend said in explaining her decision to oppose the bill modifying the permanent early voting list.

But Republican Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita of Scottsdale, who sponsored the bill, said Townsend was throwing a "temper tantrum" and killing her bill "in a show of spite and in a rage." She said Townsend was angry that her own election bills died earlier in the session. Townsend said she was indeed upset but that didn’t motivate her vote.

"It’s disappointing that someone who purports to care about election integrity, who purports to care about the voters, is deciding to kill a very important election bill," Ugenti-Rita said.

The GOP has a narrow 16-14 majority in the Senate. The defection of one Republican is enough to sink legislation if Democrats are united in opposition.

The bill, SB1485, could be revived before the end of the legislative session if Townsend has a change of heart or works out a deal. The same bill was killed earlier in the year by another Republican senator and was later brought back to life.

Related: Republicans abruptly halt debate on Arizona election bill

The measure would remove people who don’t return their mail ballot for two consecutive election cycles from the permanent list, which allows voters to automatically receive a ballot before each election. About 75% of Arizona voters are on the list. Affected voters would get a mailing asking if they want to remain on the list, and they would be removed if they don’t respond within 90 days.

Republicans say the measure is necessary to limit the number of unvoted ballots in circulation, noting it would only affect voters who have shown disinterest in voting by mail. Democrats say the measure would disenfranchise voters who expect to get a ballot that never arrives, with an especially strong impact on people of color.

Tune in to FOX 10 Phoenix for the latest news

Download FOX 10 apps for local breaking news and weather

Sign up for FOX 10 email alerts, newsletters