Log in

Election 2024

Bill that would change Arizona primary election, other dates heads to governor

New primary would be on July 30

Posted 2/8/24

PHOENIX — State lawmakers voted Thursday to fix election laws to keep voters from being disenfranchised.

The House voted 56-2 margin for a delicately crafted compromise between Republican …

You must be a member to read this story.

Join our family of readers for as little as $5 per month and support local, unbiased journalism.

Already have an account? Log in to continue.

Current print subscribers can create a free account by clicking here

Otherwise, follow the link below to join.

To Our Valued Readers –

Visitors to our website will be limited to five stories per month unless they opt to subscribe. The five stories do not include our exclusive content written by our journalists.

For $6.99, less than 20 cents a day, digital subscribers will receive unlimited access to YourValley.net, including exclusive content from our newsroom and access to our Daily Independent e-edition.

Our commitment to balanced, fair reporting and local coverage provides insight and perspective not found anywhere else.

Your financial commitment will help to preserve the kind of honest journalism produced by our reporters and editors. We trust you agree that independent journalism is an essential component of our democracy. Please click here to subscribe.

Charlene Bisson, Publisher, Independent Newsmedia

Please log in to continue

Log in
I am anchor
Election 2024

Bill that would change Arizona primary election, other dates heads to governor

New primary would be on July 30


PHOENIX — State lawmakers voted Thursday to fix election laws to keep voters from being disenfranchised.

The House voted 56-2 margin for a delicately crafted compromise between Republican legislators and Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs. The Senate followed suit moments later with a 28-2 vote.

Gov. Katie Hobbs said she will sign the measure Friday.

That action comes none too soon. Jennifer Marson, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties, warned lawmakers they had only through this week to change the date of the 2024 primary. The legislation moves it up a week, to July 30.

All that is designed to deal with the fact that a 2022 change in state law sets up a situation where more races are going to be subject to a recount. And Marson said that delay in getting final results from the primary would have left insufficient time to prepare, send and receive the ballots from overseas voters, including Arizonans serving in the military.

What also needed to be resolved is tightening up the schedule for what happens after the Nov. 5 General Election.

That possibility of more recounts ran the risk the state would not have the results of the presidential race finalized in time to send the information to Congress by the Dec. 11 deadline in federal law. And if that happened, then whoever actually wins in Arizona won’t get the state’s 11 electoral votes.

With a series of other changes, some technical, the legislation gives counties an extra 19 days after the primary to prepare and another 17 days after General Election, all of which Marson said will ensure all deadlines can be met and no one will be disenfranchised.

The version enacted gives GOP lawmakers several big things they sought. One enshrines into state law the standards that county election officials must use when verifying the signatures on early ballots.

That does exist now — but only in guidance by the Secretary of State’s Office. And that is subject to change.

“That is a major priority of our grassroots,” Rep. Alexander Kolodin, R-Scottsdale, one of the lead negotiators, told his Republican colleagues. “That is real, solid election integrity reform.”

Hobbs and Democrats sought to have that provision excised, arguing it has nothing to do with speeding up the election process.

In fact, the governor vetoed the exact same language when it was sent to her last year as a stand-alone bill. She said at the time these kinds of details — which she actually crafted when she was secretary of state — should not be cemented in state law but instead developed by the Secretary of State’s Office “in consultation with county election officials.”

Kolodin, however, said that was not acceptable.

He said having this signature verification in state law is particularly important, especially given the purpose of the legislation — and the objections by Democrats who said putting the procedures into law in a bill meant to speed up the election process might actually slow it down.

“What that indicates is that the intent of this bill was to provide an excuse for rushing the signature verification process,” he said. “And only the codification of signature verification rules could prevent that harm from happening to the voters of Arizona.”

Claims by Republicans of lax — or non-existent — signature comparisons with voter registration records are not new. In fact, they form a basis of the ongoing effort by Kari Lake to overturn her 2022 loss of the gubernatorial race to Hobbs.

But the final version of the bill clarifies that nothing in the law requires an “exact match” to allow a ballot to be counted.

The other victory by Republicans relates to the process of “curing” early ballots.

That occurs when election officials reviewing early ballots question whether the signature on the envelope matches what is in county election records.

Voters used to have five business days to fix the problem, whether in person or by phone or computer. That was shortened to five calendar days as part of the bid to tighten up election deadlines, though it ensures that county election officers will be open on the weekend to accommodate voters.

But what Republicans got was as provision requiring counties to immediately notify the all recognized parties when a ballot is set aside awaiting cure. That gives them as much time as possible to “chase” those ballots, contact the voters, and make sure those voters affirm to election officials that the ballot is indeed theirs.

“That will ensure that every voter whose signature is not matching up, who did fill out their ballot, who wants their voice to be heard will be given the opportunity for that,” said Rep. Austin Smith, R-Wittman.

“The political parties will be able to get that information and immediately go to that voter and ensure their voice is heard,” he said. “I believe that is a significant election integrity reform that we can all get behind.”

Ballot chasing can make a difference. There is evidence that Democrat Kris Mayes managed to edge out Republican Abe Hamadeh by 280 votes in the 2022 race for attorney general because her supporters did a much better job of tracking down about 2,000 Democratic voters whose ballots had been set aside for curing.

All four votes against it came from Republicans: Reps. Barbara Parker and Jacqueline Parker, a mother and daughter combination out of Mesa, and Sens. Jake Hoffman of Queen Creek and Anthony Kern of Glendale. None explained their objections during Thursday’s votes.

But the elder Parker had complained to colleagues the day before because the final version of the deal eliminated a provision that would have permanently moved the primary election beginning in 2026 to the second Tuesday in May.

“At some point, wisdom should prevail that in the state of Arizona we should have this moved up to May just for the health and safety of everyone,” she said, referring to mid-summer temperatures during the campaign.

Kolodin, however, said that issue was a “red line” for the governor that she would not negotiate. And gubernatorial press aide Christian Slater said his boss did not want to include anything in this legislation unrelated to solving the immediate deadline problem.

What Hobbs also got was killing a proposal that would have required anyone bringing their early ballot to a polling place on Election Day to also present proof of identification. Republicans, who have had complaints about the signature verification process conducted by the counties, said that would mean fewer envelopes that would have to go through the process.

Instead, the legislation allows — but does not require — someone turning in an early ballot at a polling place to show identification and have that ballot automatically presumed verified.

Hobbs also beat back a plan to require that high schools be closed on the days of the primary and general election and require district officials to make space available for polling places. That disappointed Rep. Rachel Jones, R-Tucson, who said it undermines her bid to get rid of centralized vote centers and allow voters to instead only cast their ballots at local precincts, something that would require additional locations.

But the final version does require the state cooperate in finding and offering its own buildings that can be used as voting locations.

Kolodin acknowledged what’s in the package is not everything that many rank-and-file Republicans said they wanted changed. And he said many of them had complained that GOP lawmakers “did not use leverage in order to get election integrity signed into law.”

But Kolodin told his Republican colleagues it can’t all be blamed on the Democrats and on Hobbs, who vetoed many election-related bills last year. He said they need to look in a mirror.

“We have acted like crabs in a bucket, letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, tearing down real attempts at election reform,” Kolodin said.

“We’ve done it to ourselves,” he continued. “But that ends today.”

While not perfect, Kolodin said the Republican-controlled Legislature will “put on Katie Hobbs’ desk ... what our voters put us here to do.”

Hobbs praised passage of the measure.

“While this legislation isn’t perfect, it’s the result of hard-fought compromises from everyone involved,” she said in a prepared statement.