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Bills aimed at changing election rules move forward

Posted at 6:55 PM, Feb 17, 2021

PHOENIX — Several lawmakers in both the Arizona State House and Senate introduced dozens of bills targeting the state's elections process Wednesday.

It's not uncommon to see proposed changes to election laws after a passionate general election. Still, some measures are moving forward this year as lawmakers largely vote along party lines stand out.

Wednesday, the House Government and Elections Committee heard a handful of bills relating to election laws. Most, however, falling short of suggesting improvements, rather, making certain things a crime.

HB 2794 aims at preventing election officials from changing any election related deadlines. If passed, the act could leave election officials who do so facing felony charges.

HB 2792 would criminalize election officials for sending early ballots to anyone not on the state's Permanent Early Voting List, or who requests one in a specific election.

"This is just this bill is a mess," said Rep. Kelli Butler, a Democrat representing Arizona voters in District 28. "It is part of a pile of bills that we're seeing that are seeking to make voting more difficult and apply these federal felony penalties to the people who are participating and doing their jobs."

Democrats argue Republicans behind many bills calling for major changes, and criminalization of some actions, are fueled by President Trump's loss to Joe Biden in Arizona in 2020.

“That couldn’t be further from the truth," responded bill sponsor Jake Hoffman, the newly elected Republican Representative for District 12. "Violating the law is not lawful participation in our elections. Willfully violating the law, knowingly violating the law and sending ballots to voters that did not request a mail-in ballot is not our election system.”

Last year, a judge ruled then Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes was not allowed to do so during the Presidential Preference Election in March.

Several voter advocacy groups however warn Hoffman's bill, if passed as written, would prohibit county recorders from sending ballots to voters in jail, or disabled voters in need of assistance.

"The policy of making everything an election official may do a felony is both bad election policy and even worse criminal justice policy," said Alex Gulotta, Director for All Voting is Local Action Arizona.

Another lengthy debate Wednesday focused on HB 2372, a bill that aims to require any person or group who requests more than 25 voter registration forms from their county recorder's office to place a "unique identifier" on each voter registration form distributed. The identifier, in turn, would allow county elections departments to know who helped each voter get signed up.

“This is very clearly targeted at the work that we do every single day," said Randy Perez, with Living United for Change Arizona, or LUCHA. "This is a very clear attack on the voter registration groups that have come together since SB 1070 to completely change the state of Arizona for the better by bringing hundreds of thousands of new voters of color to the table.”

"Requiring integrity in the process is in no way an attack the process itself," argued Rep. Hoffman. "Every single voter, every single person in the state of Arizona should be able to have more confidence in our process when it is clearly defined, when it is explicit and when it tries to create transparency and avoid any type of fraudulent activity.”

It's a sentiment echoed by fellow GOP lawmaker and Chairman of the House Government and Elections Committee, Representative John Kavanaugh, despite no evidence of fraud at any point in Arizona's election process.

"If there’s fraud going on, or machines can be tampered people can get a hold of ballots and fill them in for other people falsely then that’s fraud," said Kavanaugh.

“ [This bill] is grounded by a conspiracy that has not been able to be proven," responded Rep. Athena Salma, a Democrat representing District 26. "[The] conspiracies and this information during the last election cycle are now designed to create a chilling effect on the voters basically to put the state in a position where voters are just going to be questioned for exercising their constitutional right.”

In all, more than 100 bills were filed aimed at making changes, as leaders on both sides are expected to continue to square off. The House Government and Elections Committee is set to hear more Thursday.