Effort To Refresh List For Early Voting Ballots Derailed By Lone Senator

By Terri Jo Neff

In a shocking twist to this year’s legislative session, a much debated election integrity bill that would cull the early voter list unexpectedly went onto life support Thursday when Republican Sen. Kelly Townsend voted against the bill.

Townsend initially cast the lone no vote of the Senate’s Republican caucus on SB1485, which would have died on a 15 to 15 vote. Her vote forced SB1485 sponsor Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita to vote against her own bill to preserve hopes of a future revote.

The bill which has the potential to remove about 207,000 voters from the permanent early voter list (PEVL) statewide for repeated non-use of the early ballots has been one of this session’s most talked about bills.

Ugenti-Rita and some other Republican legislators took part Monday in a press conference hosted by Heritage Action For America to push back on opponents who contend any changes to PEVL as acts of voter suppression. The bill then advanced out of the House on Wednesday and was assumed to be a sure bet when the Senate met Thursday for a final reading.

SB1485 sponsor Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita and some other Republican legislators took part Monday in a press conference hosted by Heritage Action For America to push back on opponents who contend any changes to PEVL as acts of voter suppression. The bill then advanced out of the House on Wednesday and was assumed to be a sure bet when the Senate met Thursday for a final reading.

Garrett Bess, Heritage Action’s vice president of government relations and communications, addressed the need to “safeguard against potential fraud, and save taxpayer dollars” by getting SB1485 to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk. He said Townsend “shortsightedly” voted against the bill.

“Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, the bill’s sponsor, and other legislators have been working tirelessly to pass a number of bills that would strengthen the integrity of Arizona’s elections and improve voter trust in the system,” Bess stated. “No conservative should oppose these bills.”

SB1485 was the second version of a PEVL cleanup bill sponsored by Ugenti-Rita, the chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Government. For her part, Townsend introduced 18 election bills which went nowhere due to Ugenti-Rita “killing all my bills,” Townsend said.

Ugenti-Rita, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for Arizona Secretary of State, suggested Townsend killed SB1485 “in a show of spite and in a rage,” adding that it was “unfortunate to be on the receiving end of someone’s temper tantrum.”

After the Senate adjourned until Monday, Townsend took to Facebook and Twitter to address voting against SB1485 even though she supports the bill.  She also took a more personal swipe at Ugenti-Rita,.

“Michelle Ugenti-Rita feels that this move is a temper tantrum because she killed all my election reform bills in her committee,” Townsend said. “She went so far as to say I need to ‘get over my jealousy.’ I am anything but jealous of Michelle Ugenti-Rita. She has been nothing but scandal ridden from the time I have known her.”

Townsend contends it was hard to watch Ugenti-Rita talk about election integrity during the recent press conference. “Nevertheless that is not why I voted no and they knew it. I explained my vote on the floor.”

Townsend insists she advised Republican caucus leadership of her plan to not vote for any election bills until the current Senate audit of Maricopa County’s 2020 General Election process is complete.

“I am supportive of the bill, but I informed leadership and the caucus that I was a no on election related bills because we are in the middle of an audit and there is talk of the Senate voting Sine Die in (two) weeks,” she wrote.

Sine Die is the process by which the legislature is formally adjourned for the session and consideration of any unfinished business is ended.

“Once we vote Sine Die and go home, we will not be able to fix any issues prior to the next primary election. I was serious when I said I would not vote on any election bills until after the audit. I was not taken seriously,” Townsend said.

Ugenti-Rita made a floor motion to reconsider SB1485’s final reading at to be determined date. Her motion carried, but Townsend doubled down late Thursday on waiting until the Senate’s audit is complete.

“Mark my words, and my actions, I will not bend,” she said. “This bill can be brought back for reconsideration and I will vote yes, however only after the results of the audit and all issues resolved with it.”

Earlier this session Townsend lectured her colleagues on the need to cast votes based on the merits of a bill instead of as retaliation for any perceived slights. It left many senators puzzled by her derisive vote and public comments.

“It makes zero sense and is only about ego…” Sen. TJ Shope tweeted.