Republicans take aim at the ‘convenience’ of voting with sweeping election reform ballot measure

Photo by Danielle Prokop | Source NM

Republicans in the Arizona Senate are looking to put a sweeping election reform resolution to voters this fall, and they’re not shy about the fact that it is designed to make it harder for Arizonans to vote. 

“We’ve elevated convenience and comfort at the expense of faith and trust in the vote,” Sen. Wendy Rogers, the measure’s author, told the Senate Elections Committee on Thursday. 

Rogers, a Flagstaff Republican and frequent purveyor of election conspiracy theories, chairs the committee. 

By aiming to put House Concurrent Resolution 2056 to voters this fall, Republicans are trying to bypass a veto from Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, who has not been shy about nixing election bills not backed by her party. 

Bills that pass through the House and Senate must be signed by the governor to become law, but ballot referrals only require approval by the legislature, skipping the governor completely. 

The wide-ranging 19-page measure, which Rogers called “long and legendary,” would ask voters to end the practice of voters dropping off early ballots at polling places on Election Day. Instead, they could only drop them off at early voting sites until 7 p.m. on the Friday prior to Election Day, beginning in 2026. 

It would also require anyone dropping off early ballots to present identification to election officials at the polling place, and would require that all early ballots dropped off at early voting locations be tabulated onsite at that voting location — a provision sparking the most concern from county recorders, who said that the legislation will cause a plethora of problems in future elections.

While Maricopa County already tabulates most of its ballots at its voting centers on Election Day, eight of Arizona’s 15 counties don’t have the capability to do so. And even Maricopa doesn’t do that with its early ballots. 

Rogers explained that the provision is meant to speed up the tabulation of the state’s election results, something that Republicans have been pushing for since Arizona began turning purple, with races too close to call on election night. 

Pima County Recorder and Vice President of the Arizona Association of County Recorders Gabriella Cázares-Kelly, a Democrat, told legislators on the Senate Elections Committee that she’d spent Wednesday on the phone with the other recorders discussing their numerous concerns about the proposal, which was only made public a few days ago. 

The most significant of her concerns include that it would only provide $11 million to be spread amongst the 15 counties to pay for the changes it mandates, which she and Democratic Secretary of State Adrian Fontes both agreed was far less than what would be required for counties to comply with the resolution if voters approve it. 

“Eleven million dollars is wholly insufficient,” Fontes told senators, adding that the amount necessary would have been more accurate if those writing the resolution had contacted his office for consultation. 

The funding included in the resolution, which would come from the Clean Elections Fund, doesn’t account for the additional staff, subscriptions for software, maintenance, storage and security for all the additional tabulators that the counties would have to purchase, he said. 

Fontes added that ballot tabulators cost around $7,000-10,000 apiece, and each voting location would need two of them, in case one breaks down. Beyond that, Fontes said he’s not entirely sure what all the additional costs would amount to since he hadn’t had time to consult with the counties about it. 

“I really think a fuller and more complete analysis has to be made,” he said. “I don’t think the voters deserve to see something like this when there is not sufficient funding in the bill.” 

Jen Marson, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties, agreed with Fontes and Cázares-Kelly, adding that some of the counties would also have to search for new polling locations — at a time when counties already struggle to find enough locations — because the ones they previously used would not be large enough to accommodate the tabulators. 

Typically at this point in the legislative session, lawmakers cannot propose new legislation, but Rogers penned the resolution in the form of a “strike-everything” amendment to a bill that previously made its way through the House. 

Strike-everything amendments completely replace the language of the previous legislation with a new proposal that is often unrelated to the original bill. 

The proposed resolution has caused confusion among the recorders, Cázares-Kelly said, because it’s unclear who would be responsible for tabulating early ballots after they are turned in voting locations. 

At present, county recorders are in charge of early voting — which does not include tabulation — and county election directors oversee Election Day voting and tabulation. 

GOP Sens. Sonny Borrelli, of Lake Havasu City, and Rogers both brushed off Cázares-Kelly’s concerns. 

However, Prescott Republican Ken Bennett, who was secretary of state from 2009 through 2014, said he had similar worries about the blurring of the existing clear delineations between the duties of the elections directors and county recorders, with the resolution possibly requiring both to be present at early voting locations for all 27 days of early voting. 

Rogers told Bennett that he was misinterpreting her legislation, but Bennett countered that, if he was, other election administration experts had separately made the same “misinterpretation.” 

Cázares-Kelly also expressed concerns about the earlier deadline for voters to drop off early ballots, even though the resolution would allow voters to drop their ballots at county recorder’s offices between the Friday before Election Day cut off, through Election Day. She said that the recorder’s office is an hours-long round trip for some residents of rural areas, and that because mail in Pima County often takes seven days, even to get to other parts of the same county, this will severely limit early voting time for some of its residents. 

She and Marson agreed that the resolution also seemed to limit the ability of voters to drop off a family member’s early ballot, since most voters would have to show identification when dropping off their ballot at a polling location. This could lead to confusion about whether a voter can drop their own ballot for later tabulation without showing ID — they cannot — when dropping off a ballot for a family member, who would not have to show ID. 

Rogers’ proposal also removes references in state law to voting centers, locations where any registered voter within a county can cast a ballot, replacing it with “polling places.” While critics said that this seemed intended to quietly get rid of voting centers, which Republicans in the legislature have been attempting to do for at least two years, Rogers said the change was meant to be inclusive of voting centers and precinct voting systems, where only people registered within that precinct can vote. 

In addition, the resolution would ban government entities from receiving donations, whether monetary or in-kind, from any foreign government or nongovernmental organization for the purpose of election administration, something that Cázares-Kelly said no county recorders are doing. 

Rogers and Borelli acknowledged some of the concerns from the five members of the public who spoke against the resolution, but mostly dismissed them. The only member of the public who spoke in favor of the ballot referral was conservative political operative Merissa Hamilton

Rogers, an avowed election denier, said she’d written the resolution in response to voters who had come to her “worried for the sanctity of the vote.” 

Before voting against the resolution, Democratic Sen. Anna Hernandez, of Phoenix said that she had not heard from any voters in her district who were asking for this type of legislation and that it was not ready to send to the voters. 

“We have to make sure we’re sending them something that’s ready, and not based on conspiracy theories,” Hernandez said. 

“I don’t think a substantive number of people are really asking for this bill,” said Yuma Democratic Sen. Brian Fernandez. “I think this is just a few people that are on the extreme that want to figure out a way to make it more difficult for people to do what they should be able to do in an easy manner, which is vote.” 

On Thursday, the Senate Elections Committee voted 4-3, along party lines, to bring HCR 2056 to the full Senate for consideration. 

Although Bennett voted for the measure so it could pass committee, he indicated he would not support it on the floor in its current form. Republicans hold the majority by a single vote, so Bennett’s opposition would doom the proposal and block it from going to voters.

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