PHOENIX - The Republican-controlled Arizona Legislature is considering a raft of bills to change the way Arizona conducts elections, including one that would allow lawmakers to overturn presidential election results, after Democratic President Joe Biden won the state and former President Donald Trump baselessly questioned the results.
The measures range from purging people from the permanent early voting list — or even doing away with the popular list entirely — to making it easier to recount election results. One would prohibit election workers from requiring that any specific type of pen be used on ballots — a response to the debunked "Sharpiegate" conspiracy theory.
A wide-ranging proposal filed on Jan. 27 would specifically allow the Legislature to override the will of a majority of Arizona voters and appoint members of the Electoral College to back the presidential candidate lawmakers want elected, among other things. If in place last year, Trump could have picked up the state’s 11 electoral votes.
That proposal from Phoenix Rep. Shawnna Bolick, wife of a state Supreme Court justice, drew immediate responses from Democrats, including Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego. Hobbs tweeted that "we should just get rid of the presidential election altogether," since that’s essentially what the proposal aims to accomplish. Gallego vowed to lead a campaign to repeal the measure at the ballot box if it passed.
Republicans say their bills are aimed at boosting trust in Arizona’s elections and ensuring they run more smoothly. But Democrats and voting rights advocates see the legislation as attempts to make it harder for people to cast a ballot, a burden they say will fall especially hard on people of color and those with low incomes.
"Conservative efforts to restrict voting rights and restrict voting accessibility have stretched back to the very founding of our nation," Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada of Glendale said during a recent committee hearing.
Democratic President Joe Biden was the first Democrat to win Arizona since 1996, topping Trump by about 10,500 votes out of 3.3 million cast — about 0.3 percentage points.
As results were reported on election night, Biden opened a massive lead with the earliest ballots counted — early votes and mail ballots that were returned well before the election. Biden’s lead narrowed as mail ballots that arrived closer to election day, and especially ballots cast in person at traditional polling places, were counted and weighed more toward Trump.
Trump, his attorneys and some of his allies in the state Legislature cast doubt on Biden’s victory, asserting without evidence that the election was marred by fraud. Eight lawsuits were filed but rejected by judges. Much of their ire was directed at the early ballots that favored Biden.
Some of the GOP voting bills are unlikely to go far. Rep. Kevin Payne, R-Peoria, has acknowledged that his bill eliminating the permanent early voting list doesn’t have enough support to pass. He’s also introduced another bill with long odds that would require mail ballots to be notarized, introducing an extra time-consuming step.
A proposal filed this week by Rep. Kelly Townsend of Apache Junction would ban returning ballots by mail. Instead, voters would be required to return them by hand to a voting location. Townsend did not respond to messages Thursday and Friday seeking comment on the measure.
Some proposals have already cleared their first committee and are headed for votes in the full House or Senate.
That includes a bill that would purge people from the permanent early voter list if they skip the primary and general in two election cycles, which cleared the Senate Government Committee in a party-line vote last week. People who opt into the list, known as the PEVL, automatically get a ballot in the mail for every election.
Mail voting in Arizona has become extraordinarily popular over the past three decades. More than 8 in 10 votes are now cast with ballots that arrive in the mail and are returned either through the postal service, an official drop box or at a polling place on election day.
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, a Scottsdale Republican who sponsored SB1069, said her bill would only affect people who don’t seem to be interested in being on the PEVL.
"You’re not doing anything other than affirming how they’re already behaving, which is they’re not voting by mail," Ugenti-Rita said.
Democratic Sen. Juan Mendez pushed back, saying voters are reacting to their choices.
"People choosing not to use their ballot means we as politicians are failing to give those voters a reason to vote," said Mendez, a Tempe Democrat.
Another bill, which was approved by a House committee, would require the secretary of state to use death records to cancel voter registrations, which supporters say would prevent people from fraudulently voting in the name of a dead person. Critics say such incidents are extremely rare, and purging the voting rolls could accidentally scrub living people.
Meanwhile, the Senate has also advanced two measures changing the state’s recount laws and the post-election auditing process. One bill would change the threshold for an automatic recount, which is currently 200 votes for most races, including statewide races and the presidency. SB1083 would require an automatic recount when the candidates are separated by less than 0.5% — a threshold that would have required a recount of Biden’s victory.
Another bill, SB1010, would allow people to request a recount at their own expense if one isn’t automatically triggered. Arizona law does not currently allow for candidates or anyone else to request a recount. The bill would also increase the number of ballots that must be hand-counted to verify the accuracy of voting machines.
"Lots of folks have lost faith in the election process and that should alarm us all," Sen. J.D. Mesnard, a Chandler Republican, said during the committee hearing.
Democrats shot back that the doubts about the election were planted by Trump and his GOP allies based on conspiracy theories that lack evidence.
"The way to fix those problems is not to run bills like this," Quezada said. "It’s to tell the truth."
Associated Press reporter Bob Christie contributed.
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