By Terri Jo Neff
A Denver-based political action committee has poured more than $800,000 into lobbyist efforts to influence legislation involving Arizona’s election laws, and some of their literature has come under challenge as being outdated or misleading.
Unite America’s website proclaims it supports electoral reforms such as nonpartisan ballot initiatives and legislative campaigns which “increase competition, participation, and accountability in the political system.” The group, which utilizes the tagline Country Over Party, also operates Unite Arizona and is registered to conduct lobbying activities in the state.
Since Arizona’s legislative session started on Jan. 11, Unite America – Unite Arizona has taken positions on several election-related bills, including one which the group opposed that seeks to reduce the number of un-utilized ballots being mailed out. The group has also supported a bill that would replace Arizona’s presidential primary process with a complex new format.
Unite America also claims to be focused on “ease of voting through more accessibility” although critics say some of those efforts unnecessarily open the door to more opportunities for election fraud.
In 2019, Unite America Institute rated Arizona with a score of 28 out of 50 for implementing election law changes which adhere to Unite America’s principles. That prompted the group to focus on lobbying to change what it calls “the unjust nature of presidential primary elections [PPE] in the Grand Canyon state.”
The solution, according to Unite Arizona’s website, is to enact complex legislation such as HB2378 to establish Rank Choice Voting (RCV) for use during the PPE.
Under RCV, voters in a presidential primary would rank candidates in order of preference. It can make it easier for more candidates to do well in the early round of a crowded field, but the Unite Arizona website does not address the number of ways RCV is vulnerable to manipulation nor how expensive it would be to overhaul Arizona’s election process.
HB2378 was opposed by the Arizona Association of Counties, which represents those who actually run elections. The bill failed to make it out of committee.
One bill Unite America – Unite Arizona is fighting is SB1069 (now active as SB1485) which if enacted would remove around 200,000 of the state’s 3.2 million voters currently on the Permanent Early Voter List (PEVL).
That figure of how many voters may be impacted was provided to legislators by Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat. But anyone reading Unite Arizona’s website would believe the legislation calls for “massive changes to PEVL that would disenfranchise millions of voters.”
However, the legislation introduced by Republican Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita would only require a county to drop a voter from PEVL, or what becomes EVL, if the voter fails to utilize their early ballot in both the primary and general election in each of the last two election cycles.
Voters would also be sent a notice about their lack of us of PEVL before removal, and despite suggestions to the contrary, the bill does not effect a voter’s actual registration file.
But Unite Arizona contends legislation like SB1069-turned-SB1485 would “be detrimental to Arizonans’ ability to fairly vote in elections” and would “create obstacles that would increase the difficulty of voting by mail.”
In addition to misleading statements about the legislation, some voters and legislators point to outdated information on the Unite Arizona website that does not reflect amendments to the legislation, thus giving an incomplete and inaccurate view of the Ugenti-Rita’s bill.