A handful of the bills — including two that would impose new restrictions on Arizona’s popular vote-by-mail system and one that would limit its narrow voting window — have gained momentum and could pass.
Nearly two dozen bills that would restrict voting were introduced in Arizona this year, and several have advanced in recent weeks.
The latest came Wednesday, when a state House committee approved a bill that would turn the state’s permanent early voting list into one that drops those who skip consecutive election cycles. The list, created with bipartisan support in 2007, now features 3.2 million people who use it to receive their ballots by mail for each election and has helped spur a shift that resulted in about 80% of the state’s votes being cast by mail.
And on Monday, the state Senate approved a bill that would require voters to submit identification paperwork with their mailed-in ballots. Instead of the state’s current system of matching signatures on ballot envelopes with voters’ signatures on file, those voting by mail would need to provide affidavits with their date of birth and driver’s license, state ID or tribal ID card number — or would need to include their voter registration number and a copy of a utility bill. The same forms of identification are already required for in-person votes in Arizona. That bill hasn’t yet been scheduled for a House committee vote.
The Senate could also vote soon on a bill that would narrow Arizona’s early voting window, starting it five days later and ending it early by requiring ballots to be postmarked by the Thursday before Election Day. Under current law, ballots just have to arrive at the post office on Election Day.
Those measures are part of a raft of new voting restrictions introduced at the start of this year’s legislative session in Phoenix. Other proposals, including one that would allow the legislature to overturn election results, have not advanced — but in statehouses, bills can sometimes be revived before legislatures adjourn for the year. In Arizona, the session will end by April 24.
Taken together, Democrats and pro-voting rights groups say, the bills that Arizona Republicans are advancing have the effect of restricting the franchise, particularly for marginalized communities.
“They are trying to make it harder for everyone to vote based on the hope and desire that the people who it harms more and who it disenfranchises more are the people less likely to vote Republican,” said state Rep. Athena Salman, a Tempe Democrat and member of the Arizona House Government and Elections Committee.
Pointing to Republicans’ losses in Arizona’s last two Senate races, the 2020 presidential election and the GOP’s narrow state legislative majorities, Salman said: “The only way that they can hold onto control is if they make it harder for people to vote so that they can get an unfair and potentially unconstitutional competitive advantage.”
The bill that would remove some voters from the state’s list of those who are automatically sent mail-in ballots each election was the subject of a contentious committee hearing Wednesday.
SB 1485, which has already passed the state Senate and now heads to the full House, would have the state send notices to people who are on the permanent early voting list but have not participated in the last four elections — so, the 2018 primaries and midterm election and the 2020 primaries and election — asking if they want to continue to receive ballots. Those who do not respond would be removed.
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, the Scottsdale Republican who sponsored the measure, said it is a “clean-up bill” to ensure ballots are not being created for and mailed to those who have moved, died or don’t want them.
“On its face, it would make sense that you would want to reduce opportunities for fraud, undo influence, manipulation. That should be something that we all agree on, right?” she said. “Allowing voters to sign up in perpetuity does increase the opportunity for things to go wrong.”
Rep. John Kavanagh, a Fountain Hills Republican who chairs the Government and Elections Committee that advanced Ugenti-Rita’s measure on a party-line vote Wednesday, said GOP lawmakers are concerned about what happens to ballots automatically sent to people who have moved or have died.
He acknowledged that the concerns about those ballots being cast fraudulently are “anecdotal, because obviously if nobody’s there and they throw it away, you wouldn’t know. And if nobody’s there and they vote it and do a good duplicate of the signature, you wouldn’t know.”
“There’s a fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans,” Kavanagh said. “Democrats value as many people as possible voting, and they’re willing to risk fraud. Republicans are more concerned about fraud, so we don’t mind putting security measures in that won’t let everybody vote — but everybody shouldn’t be voting.”
He pointed to Democrats’ emphasis on registering voters and pursuing those who have not returned ballots — tactics that Republicans have successfully implemented in other swing states — and said doing so means that “you can greatly influence the outcome of the election if one side pays people to actively and aggressively go out and retrieve those ballots.”
“Not everybody wants to vote, and if somebody is uninterested in voting, that probably means that they’re totally uninformed on the issues,” Kavanagh said. “Quantity is important, but we have to look at the quality of votes, as well.”
Arizona is second only to Georgia in the number of bills to implement new voting restrictions introduced this year, said Eliza Sweren-Becker, voting rights and elections counsel at the Brennan Center.
“It is at the top of the heap of states that are trying to restrict voting access,” she said. “The magnitude of restrictive voting bills that we’re seeing in both of those states is a reflection of the anxiety around the browning of America.”
Alex Gulotta, the Arizona state director of All Voting is Local, said hearings like Wednesday’s reveal the “privilege of the suburban legislators” who assume everyone has easy access to the documents proposals advancing this year would make necessary, and fail to take into account the limited internet access rural areas and some of the state’s Native American communities face.
Pointing to the bill that would require voters to submit ID with their mail-in ballots, he said some people will have their votes invalidated if they forget or are unable to send a printed form with their driver’s license. Those who don’t have licenses would need to know how to find their voter identification number, and then overcome anxiety about sending a copy of a utility bill or bank statement with their ballots.
“To expect that people will be able to get these documents, print them out or make a copy of them and then include and feel comfortable including them in with their ballot envelope and still expect that their ballot is secret — that’s a real challenge,” Gulotta said. “And it really undermines vote by mail in a really meaningful way.”