Republican state lawmakers, including two Scottsdale representatives, are moving on multiple fronts to erect new hurdles for early voters.
On a party-line vote, GOP senators decided to scrap existing laws that determine the validity of early ballots based solely on county election workers matching their signatures on the envelopes with what’s on file.
Instead, they would need to provide an affidavit with their date of birth and the number of a state driver’s license, identification card or tribal enrollment card.
State lawmakers also are one step away from removing the concept of “permanent’’ from the state’s permanent early voting list.
The House Committee on Government and Elections approved a measure that would require counties to stop sending out an early ballot to anyone who has not used it in either of the last two statewide or federal elections.
Even at that, the proposal by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, would require county recorders to send a notice to people informing them of the pending removal from the list. Then, if the voter responded, he or she would remain on the list and continue to get ballots in the mail.
Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said the measure, which already has been approved by the Senate and now awaits a House vote, is just another attempt to make voting more difficult. She said the evidence shows that it would more likely affect minorities.
What makes all that important is that Rep. Raquel Teran, D-Phoenix, said data from the 2020 election shows there were about 126,000 people who cast a ballot in that record-breaking year but had not, for whatever reason, used their early ballots in 2016 or 2018. Had this measure been in effect, she said, none of those people would have gotten early ballots last year.
And Salman said that, given the propensity of minority votes to skew Democrat, eliminating those votes would have allowed Donald Trump to win in Arizona.
She wasn’t the only one to link the 2020 victory of Joe Biden to SB 1485. Sandy Bahr, chapter director of the Sierra Club, also suggested a direct link between the measure and the 2020 election.
“Is it because more and more Arizonans are using early ballots to vote?’’ she asked of the motives behind the bill. About 80 percent of Arizonans voted early in November.
“Or is it because the election results were different than certain people would have liked?’’ Bahr asked.
Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, rejected the idea of some “grand conspiracy’’ to make it harder for minorities to vote and said “this is an administrative cleanup.”
Backers have another argument.
“This will reduce the opportunity for ballots to be sent out to people who are no longer voting,’’ Ugenti-Rita said, ballots that may then be picked up by someone else and voted.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said that would be easy to do.
He said the only check now on validity of early ballots is a comparison of signatures on the envelope by election workers with those on file. But Kavanagh said it would be easy for someone to get another person’s signature, perhaps off of publicly filed documents, and simply trace it.
Anyway, he said, it’s not like county election workers are trained to be forensic signature experts.
Salman said there are good reasons for suspicions of sinister motives by Republicans and why, in her words, SB 1485 should be seen as a “voter suppression bill.’’
She pointed to arguments made a week ago at the U.S. Supreme Court by Michael Carvin, an attorney for the Arizona Republican Party.
He is defending a 2016 law which makes it a crime for anyone to take someone else’s early ballot to the polls in situations where the voter forgets to get it in the mail on time to arrive before 7 p.m. Election Day.
Asked why the GOP is a party in the case, Carvin was clear. “It puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats,’’ he said.
“Politics is a zero-sum game,’’ Carvin continued. “And every extra vote they get through unlawful interpretations of Section 2 hurts us. It’s the difference between winning an election 50 to 49 and losing an election.’’
The Senate bill would require voters without a driver’s license to send a copy of any other federal state or locally issued ID card.
The proposal by Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, gets more complicated.
First, there’s the need for someone’s voter registration number.
“Raise your hand if you know your voter registration number,’’ said Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Tempe.
Then they have to enclose an actual physical copy of something with their actual address like a utility bill dated within the past 90 days.
Right now, any ballot delivered by the post office by 7 p.m. on Election Day gets counted.
SB 1593 says any ballot not actually postmarked by the prior Thursday is discarded even if it shows up before close of business on Election Day.
Nothing in the bill precludes a voter from taking that early ballot to a polling place on Election Day, turning it in and instead getting a regular ballot.
Ugenti-Rita said criticism of the GOP measures amounts to saying that Republicans are racists.
She said the new forms of ID don’t disenfranchise anyone and that nothing in legislation applies solely to one group.
But Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, pointed out that courts have voided otherwise “facially neutral’’ law if they have a disproportionate impact on minorities.
Mesnard said he sees nothing wrong with providing some extra security to ensure that the votes received come from the people who were supposed to get those ballots.
Still, Mesnard said he will make some further changes when the bill now goes to the House to ease some of those requirements.