Senate committee approves election changes

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PHOENIX — With complaints and suggestions that there was fraud in 2020, state lawmakers began the process Monday of making major and minor alterations in state election laws.

On party line votes, the Republican-controlled Senate Government Committee approved:

-New security requirements for ballot paper like ultraviolet inks and foil holograms;

- Requiring that the images of each and every ballot be made public so that individual voters can effectively conduct their own audit of tallies;

- Mandating automatic recounts in any election where the margin of victory is less than 0.5%, up from 0.1%, a big enough change that, had it been in effect in 2020, would have mandated a new count in Joe Biden's 10,457-vote victory in Arizona over Donald Trump.

But all that is just the first step.

Waiting in the wings are some far more substantive changes, including new identification requirements to register and vote, reducing the ability of people to vote early,

The debate on the bills came the same day that Arizona formed its committee to host the 2023 Super Bowl.

What makes that relevant is that a group of faith leaders last week called on the National Football League to pull the annual game out of the state because of what they say are already overly restrictive election laws like last year's measure changing the permanent early voting list. But Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday brushed aside the question, instead talking about the 2020 election and how people said it was “safe and secure.”

There is precedent for such a move.

The NFL yanked the 1993 event from Arizona over the failure to create a state holiday for slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., moving it to California.

And just last year, in a separate sport, Major League Baseball moved its All-Star game out of Atlanta after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed election legislation that foes said works to disenfranchise minorities.

“We know that the NFL, with its social justice initiative, can be inclined to act,” the Rev. Stephen A. Green, chair of Fair for Black Lives, told USA Today. “We’re calling on the NFL to do it again. We will be applying pressure on the NFL to honor our request.”

But Ducey, while refusing to comment on specific measures being debated, also suggested that some of the more far-reaching proposal that have been introduced may not ever become law.

“People are running for election,” he said, a nod not just to legislators seeking a new term but to the fact that several are competing to become the next secretary of state, the state’s chief elections officer.

“They’re out there saying certain things that may or may not ever be introduced,” Ducey said.

What is moving, however, are the measures approved Monday by the Senate Government Committee. Potentially the most sweeping is SB 1120 on ballot security measures.

Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, said there is reason to believe that fake ballots were counted in the 2020 election.

He said the Senate-conducted audit last year found ballots turned in on 10 different types of paper of different weights. He said the company that printed the ballots for Maricopa County said it uses only one kind of paper.

SB 1120 lists 19 specific attributes future ballots must have to conform, similar to what exists in larger denominations of U.S. currency.

Borrelli acknowledged there would be a cost, though he said it could be as little as a nickel a ballot. But he told colleagues that should not be a concern.

“Our ballots are your currency as an American citizen, and your ballot should be treated just like the currency in your pocket,” he said.

Borrelli is also the sponsor of SB 1119.

As approved by the panel, it requires counties to make digital copies of all ballots and post them online.

“We vote in private but count in public,” he said.

A parade of witnesses said having those public images would allow individuals to make their own assessments of the validity of the ballots. That is similar to claims made during the audit — all unproven — that everything from ballot folds to whether a bubble was filled in too perfectly to actually have been done by a human.

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake said she has a personal reason for supporting the bill.

“I’m worried about what happened to President Trump happening to me and others,” she told lawmakers. “This last election was shady, it was shoddy, it was corrupt, and our vote was taken from us.”

That got a slap from Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale.

“Saying the election was stolen is a great campaign speech,” he said. “But it’s not real.”

Donald Adams testified about working at the Senate audit.

“I could feel the different the thickness of the paper every time it changed,” he said. “I know there was election fraud.”

Monday’s action is only a precursor of what is yet to come.

One of the more far-reaching measures comes from Rep. Walt Blackman.

The Snowflake Republican who is running for Congress, proposes in HB 2577 to require anyone showing up to vote to present a voter identification card.

What’s notable about that is the only way to get it is if someone presents proof of citizenship which can be in the form of a U.S. birth certificate, naturalized citizenship documents or current U.S. passport. Tribal ID cards would no longer be acceptable. The card also could be issued only with two other documents that validate the person as a legal Arizona resident.

Even someone who has the kind of voter ID card that Blackman proposes would have to present two other proof he or she is the person on the card out of three legal options: signature, fingerprint or a “unique security code” issued to that person.

The same measure, HB 2577, would scrap what’s left of the early voting list, requiring people to seek an early ballot for each and every election.

But Blackman also is the sponsor of HB 2571 proposes to scrap decades-old laws that allow anyone to request an early ballot. Instead, people would have to provide a specific reason, ranging from being out of their voting precinct on Election Day to that day falling on a religious holiday.

And in the most sweeping provision, the legislation would require that ballots for all future state, county, city or town elections to be counted by hand. The only use of machines would be by those who require special accommodations.

In HB 2242, Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, wants county recorders to independently verify the name, address, date of birth and driver’s license number of people who register. Willful failure to comply could send the recorder to prison for a year.

He also wants those who drop off early ballots at voting centers to provide the same identification as is — or will be — required for those who vote in person.

Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, has her own ideas for how to change elections.

Her SB 1133 would make it illegal for cities and school districts to hold mail-only elections. She also wants through SB 1058 to ban drive-through voting and the use of drop boxes except in official election facilities, outlawing what had been a popular method of casting ballots during the pandemic before vaccines were available.

And SB 1027 would set up a new Bureau of Elections within the governor's office to investigate allegations of election fraud.

Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, proposes to ease the prohibition on taking photos within the 75-foot limit around polling places. Her HB 2377 would permit voters to take pictures or videos of himself or herself as well as “any election worker.”

Not all the measures seek new restrictions.

Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, has proposed HB 2071 wants to require election officials to count any ballot that is postmarked at least six days before Election Day. Current law says any ballot not in the hands of election officials by 7 p.m. on that day, doesn’t get counted.

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