Bills Would Change Recounts Thresholds And When Voters Are Dropped From Early Ballot List

January 20, 2021

Members for the Arizona Senate Committee on Government will take up two bills Thursday which seek to amend state election laws, including one that would force county election officials to remove some inactive voters from the Permanent Early Voter List (PEVL).

Being on the PEVL ensures an Arizona voter is automatically mailed an early ballot -also referred to as an absentee ballot- for any election in which the voter is eligible to vote. A voter can then return their completed ballot by mail or drop it in an official ballot box on or before election day.

Most Arizona counties reported 60 to 80 percent of all votes cast in the 2020 General Election were mail-in ballots.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-LD23) is seeking to amend Arizona Revised Statute 16-544 which governs eligibility for the PEVL. Her bill, SB1069, would require counties to cull their PEVL of certain voters who do not consistently utilize early balloting unless the voter completes and returns a special form.

The senator, who chairs the Senate Committee on Government, has been outspoken in her belief that changes are needed to Arizona’s election laws in order to restore voter confidence in the process. Her bill would help identify voters who no longer live in Arizona, are perhaps incarcerated, or who may even be deceased.

ARS §16-544 currently requires a voter to be dropped from the PEVL upon the voter’s written request or if the voter is no longer registered or eligible to vote. The county recorder will also remove a voter from the list if an early ballot mailing has been returned undeliverable and election officials have been unable to contact the voter.

According to the proposed bill, the county recorder or other elections officer would also be required to notify a voter of impending removal from the PEVL if the voter “fails to vote using an early ballot in both the primary election and the general election for two consecutive primary and general elections for which there was a federal, statewide or legislative race on the ballot.”

To remain on the PEVL, the voter would have to return the county’s notice within 30 days and provide their address, date of birth, and signature. There is no provision in SB1069 for allowing a voter to submit a signed letter with the same information.

Also on Thursday’s agenda for the senate committee meeting is SB1083, which seeks to amend ARS §16-661 governing when an automatic recount is mandated during a primary or general election.

Currently there are six trigger points for an automatic recount based on the type of office and the number of votes cast in a particular race. There are also several exemptions to automatic recounts, including elections for school district governing boards, community college district governing boards, fire district boards, fire district chiefs, fire district secretary-treasurers, other special district boards, and precinct committeemen.

But SB1083, sponsored by Ugenti-Rita as well, would remove the exemptions. It would also simplify the vote margin for when an automatic recount is triggered by doing away with five of the provisions. Instead, the bill would set an across-the-board automatic recount margin of one-half of one percent of the votes cast in a race.

There has been no First Read on SB1083 as of Jan. 19.

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