Election Integrity Bill Requiring Increased Party Participation Passes Out of Committee

Election Integrity Bill Requiring Increased Party Participation Passes Out of Committee

By Daniel Stefanski |

One of the Arizona Legislature’s election integrity measures cleared its first hurdle this week, putting it one step closer to a possible showdown with Governor Katie Hobbs’ office.

The bill, HB2305, which was sponsored by Representative Cory McGarr, deals with ballots, signature verification, and observers. It cleared the Arizona House Municipal Oversight & Elections Committee on Wednesday, February 1, with a party-line 6-4 vote. Representatives Harris, Heap, Jones, Smith, Kolodin, and Parker voted to pass the legislation out of the Republican-controlled committee.

According to the summary from the Arizona Legislature, HB2305 “requires the County Recorder and county officer in charge of elections to allow party representatives to observe each stage of the signature verification process for early ballots.” This appears to already be existing law in ARS 16-621 (“All proceedings at the counting center…shall be conducted in accordance with the approved instructions and procedures manual issued pursuant to section 16-452 under the observation of representatives of each political party and the public.”) as one member of the Arizona House pointed out to AZ Free News, but some legislators desire to make the law crystal clear to help improve the transparency and integrity of the election process and to ensure that all Arizona counties are following the law when it comes to signature verification.

The Arizona signature verification process has received a tremendous amount of scrutiny since the 2020 presidential election – especially due to the sheer number of early ballots returned prior to and on Election Day each cycle. Arizona county officials spend weeks and countless hours tabulating ballots returned through the mail or dropped off at designated sites up until 7pm on Election Night. Many of the late arrivals are counted in the days following Election Day, and signatures are supposed to be verified before any vote is officially tallied.

Signature verification was a large focus of former Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s investigation into the Maricopa County 2020 General Election and his subsequent interim report to former Senate President Karen Fann on April 6, 2022. The interim report found that “on November 4, 2020, the Maricopa County Recorder verified 206,648 early ballot affidavit signatures, which resulted in an average of 4.6 seconds per signature.” Brnovich’s report stated that “there are simply too many early ballots that must be verified in too limited a period of time, thus leaving the system vulnerable to error, fraud and oversight.”

Brnovich’s reported concluded that “because signature verification is the most important current check on early ballots, there must be opportunities for parties’ election observers to meaningfully observe the signature verification process in real time and to raise objections if officials are not doing their jobs to actually and accurately verify signatures.” He then called on the Arizona Legislature to act “to ensure transparency on this check.” Representative McGarr’s legislation may be an answer to that suggestion. 

At last count of the legislation’s page on the Arizona Legislature’s website, there were 153 entries in support of HB2305 and only 25 against. The Arizona Secretary of State’s Office took a neutral position.

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.