A group of election reform bills that Republicans say would make elections more secure and speed up results would actually make voting more difficult and time consuming, and are solutions to nonexistent problems, critics said Monday.
One of the bills would be impossible to implement in some Arizona counties, while others seem fated for a veto if they ever reach Gov. Katie Hobbs.
Out of the seven bills that the Senate Elections Committee approved on Monday, six passed 5-3 along party lines, and just one passed with unanimous support.
One of the bills that garnered criticism from both sides of the aisle, Senate Bill 1105, introduced by Sen. Frank Carroll, R-Sun City West, would require early ballots returned to a polling place on Election Day be tabulated on-site at the polling location.
“If you go to the polls on Election Day, then why use an early ballot?” Kavanagh asked. “Do it like everyone else.”
Kavanagh added that he would only continue to support the bill if counties were also provided more funding to open additional polling places to deal with the increased number of voters who would have to stand in line to have their ballots tabulated on Election Day.
Currently, voters who drop off early ballots on Election Day simply put them in a secure box to be tabulated later at the county’s central ballot processing facility.
Jen Marson, a lobbyist for the Arizona Association of Counties, told the committee the bill was “unimplementable” because only about half of the state’s counties even have the capability of tabulating any ballots on-site at polling places on Election Day.
It would also create a need for two separate voting operations — one for early ballot tabulation and one for regular in-person voting — to take place at each polling location. That would necessitate more space and more poll workers, Marson said, both of which can be difficult to come by.
Kavanagh responded that, when he was young, polling places were typically in churches and schools.
“I have no idea why we don’t use more government buildings for voting,” Kavanagh said.
Marson answered that schools often refuse to operate as polling places and added that each location also needs to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, told Marson that “all I hear is opposition from your organization” and said that “if we got rid of all these daggum electronic machines” then there would be more money to pay poll workers.
Prescott Republican Sen. Ken Bennett, a former Arizona secretary of state, said he agreed with what he believed was the sponsor’s intent, to speed up the tabulation process for so-called “late early” ballots, but added that, without changes the proposed law would be “unworkable for counties.”
Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe called the bill a “logistical mess” and Sen. Anna Hernandez, D-Glendale said it was “hugely problematic.”
One measure aims to eliminate Election Day early ballot drop-offs altogether. Kavanagh’s Senate Bill 1135 would require those who received an early voting ballot in the mail but who wanted to turn it in on Election Day to spoil that ballot — the technical term for canceling it — and turn it in at their polling place, at which point they’d be required to show identification and then vote a regular in-person ballot instead.
In many counties, that ballot would then be tabulated immediately by the on-site tabulators already in use.
Mendez argued that this would disenfranchise voters who simply wanted to drop off their early ballot and didn’t know that they needed to bring identification to the polling place.
Kavanagh answered that the bill was aimed to stop voter fraud, something that, despite copious conspiracy theories saying otherwise, experts say is rare.
“How do I know you didn’t find that (early) ballot on the street or stole it from a friend’s house?” Kavanagh asked.
Each envelope for every mail-in ballot sent to an Arizonan on the early voting list includes a barcode that is unique to that voter and ballot. This ensures that no voter is allowed to both mail in a ballot and also vote in person. Voters can also opt to track their ballot, and can find out through their county website or the Secretary of State site, when it’s been received and counted.
Kavanagh later said the bill was meant to speed up the “log jam” that tabulation of early ballots dropped off on Election Day causes in slowing the release of election results, something that caused outrage after the Arizona general election in November, even though the state has always been slow to release results. Maricopa County received a larger-than-expected number of early ballots dropped off on Election Day this year, which officials said did slow tabulation.
Sen. Priya Sundareshan, D-Tucson, said the bill addresses a problem that she doesn’t believe exists: The need to know election results more quickly. She added that, while some of the others on the committee reminisced about the “good old days” when most people voted in person before mail-in voting became widespread in Arizona in 1991, laws were changed to allow more ways to vote to increase participation — in part because people were being disenfranchised.
“I can’t support something like this, when we should be looking at ways to make voting easier,” she said.
Although Bennett voted in favor of the bill, he said that Republicans needed to work on a coordinated effort for their election bills so that they don’t conflict and could be realistically implemented by the counties.
Another bill the Senate panel approved, Senate Bill 1095, would require early ballot envelopes to include a written warning that ballots dropped in a ballot drop box or mailed after the Friday before the election could cause delayed election results.
Marson also spoke in opposition to this bill, saying that it would cause confusion since county recorders have for years advised voters to mail back their ballots by the Wednesday before the election. She added that, for voters living in rural areas, a ballot mailed on Friday might not make it to their county recorder’s office by the deadline of 7 p.m. on Election Day.
Bennett opined that the bill likely wouldn’t pass unless the advised mailing time was amended to Wednesday instead of Friday, but he nonetheless voted in its favor.
“I think we need to be very careful how we dictate to counties how to communicate with voters,” Bennett said.
The only bill that passed the committee unanimously on Monday was Senate Bill 1178, which allows counties to skip signature verification on ballot envelopes for voters who vote early in-person and who have to show their IDs to obtain a ballot. Marson spoke in favor of the bill, saying it eliminated the redundancy of verifying a voter’s identity twice: Through an ID check and signature verification.
Other bills that passed the committee on Tuesday included:
Senate Bill 1180, which would prohibit organizations that work to register voters from paying workers per registration form. Bennett said the bill was requested by county officials, and that they hoped it would prevent those organizations from turning in junk forms that county workers must sift through.
Senate Bill 1068, which would require that each voting location include one worker from each of the two major political parties. This is a change from the current law that if the workers are members of a political party, they must be equally divided between the two parties.
Senate Bill 1066, which would require nongovernmental organizations to include the words “not from a government entity” on election-related mail that resembles official election correspondence.
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