A total of seven out of election integrity bills considered by the Arizona Senate Government Committee on Monday were passed; due to time constraints, an additional six bills were held for later discussion. The committee passed the bills 4-3, every time along party lines, with the exception of State Senator Martín Quezada’s (D-Glendale) vote for SB1411.
Among those passed were SB1362, requiring every county recorder to tabulate early ballots at a polling place or voting center by 2024; SB1404, repealing the Active Early Voting List (AEVL) and limiting early ballot voting eligibility to those who expect to be absent from their precinct at the time of the election, are physically unable to go to the polls, are 65 or older, whose residence is over 15 miles from the polling place or precinct, can’t attend to polls on election day due to their religion, have a visual impairment, or qualifies as eligible via the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act; SB1411, requiring counties with over 100,000 citizens provide an early ballot tracking system for their citizens by 2024; SB1357, prohibiting elections machines or devices that were certified by laboratories not accredited at time of certification; SB1358, requiring ballots from counties with voting centers to be separated and grouped by precinct; SB1457, requiring the Secretary of State (SOS) to ensure election machines meet standards such as no internet access, ability to sustain and track multiple users with unique credentials, and updated operating systems and software that match U.S. Department of Homeland Security standards; and SB1474, declaring primary and general election days as state holidays, prohibiting voting locations from being used as on-site early voting, and establishing voting on election day only.
For SB1357, State Senator Hatathlie said she couldn’t vote for the bill because nobody had answered whether or not the machines that were used during the last election were certified.
State Senator Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) reminded the floor that there was testimony addressing Hatathlie’s concerns; she said that she also learned the EAC missed members so that they couldn’t vote.
“I’m not sure if that’s why they let the accreditation lapse for some of these groups, but at the time that they certified these machines they did not have a valid accreditation. Therefore it’s in question whether or not they certified [the machines] legally,” said Townsend.
The Arizona Association of Counties (AACo) spoke out against several bills, including: SB1358, SB1457, and SB1474.
AACo Executive Director Jennifer Marson argued that SB1358’s requirement to separate ballots by precinct would take counties backwards. Townsend rebutted that vote centers made it more difficult to weed out “bad actors” stuffing ballots and overvoting, versus tabulations that take place at the precinct level. Marson then argued that centers have the ability to access precinct totals and other pertinent organizational information through election management software. Townsend responded that compiling all the ballots together without separation for precinct would make review of them difficult if not impossible after initial counting, especially for audits. She used the example of her time at the retail clothing chain, Miller’s Outpost, prior to electronic filing, meaning she relied on an expansive paper filing system to check customers’ credit card information. Similar to ballots, Townsend argued, the necessity of breaking down all of that stored information into categories and subcategories made it easier to locate and review.
As for SB1457, AACo Senior Legislative Associate Megan Kintner informed the committee that their equipment wouldn’t allow for their operations to create individualized codes for every single poll worker. She added that the bill’s requirement for additional observers would be difficult to satisfy because they already had a hard time securing volunteers. Kittner also noted that the bill didn’t address what counties should do when volunteers don’t show up. Townsend responded that Kittner’s colleague, Marson, told her that the unique log-ins were possible to do, with the exception of volunteers checking people in for poll books, and suggested that Kittner check back in with Marson on that information. Majority Whip Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City) ignored Kintner’s concerns of logistics, emphasizing the greater need for accountability. Borrelli also challenged the general notion that no backdoor access was possible with election machines.
“Nothing is ‘not hackable,’ so let’s put as much prevention in it as possible. I’ve said this before: keep locks on your doors, keep honest people honest,” insisted Borrelli. “The intent is, whoever’s going to log into the system, we need to know who they are,”
SB1457 may receive some additional language; Borrelli was open to a suggestion from Townsend on adding an accountability aspect for video streams that get interrupted, such as a requirement to stop counting. Borrelli noted that even the legislature has to pause its operations when their streaming system goes down.
Townsend said that the bill would ward off bad actors relying on ease of access through community log-ins. She referenced the Miller’s Outpost operations again, noting that they had unique log-ins for their employees.
Marson said that voting machines have existed in America since 1881, and that states back then could select their own election day. The referenced voting machine relied on push button and interlock mechanics to select only single candidates per race and then reset for a new vote after the voter left the booth. When Townsend asked how long it took precincts to count votes when they counted by hand only, Marson said she didn’t know and couldn’t find the answer. However, Marson said that records reflected that states had several months to file their results, meaning they didn’t have a rush to complete their work in a day.
“I think this just underscores the idea that we should do a lot of research to see what can be restored, and what makes sense and what doesn’t,” said Townsend.
Although the committee denied Quezada’s amendment to SB1474 removing language about prohibiting voting locations from being used as on-site early voting, Townsend revealed that some within the Republican caucus oppose the bill, meaning she’ll have to make inroads with
“I still think that precinct voting on the day of and having a holiday is better, but we have to get it on the governor’s desk,” said Townsend.
Marson spoke up again to question how the elections would be conducted if public bodies were ordered to be closed, and asked when elections officials running the elections would have time to vote. Her questions weren’t addressed. Committee Democrats insisted that there wasn’t evidence of widespread fraud that necessitated this bill.
Due to time constraints, Townsend held the other bills for review another day: SB1058, prohibiting drive-up voting and voting through a drop box outside of a polling place, voting center, or the offices of either the county recorder or elections department; SB1343, requiring all early, provisional, and conditional provisional ballots to be separated, tabulated, and recorded by their precinct and category; SB1359, requiring all elections workers to have a unique password for accessing any election system, which would be changed every two weeks; SB1360, expanding rights for election observers such as documenting their observations, appealing an ejection from the election location, and asking questions of election officials; SB1380, requiring county recorders to use USPS National Change of Address (NCOA) information to weed out voters whose address changed; and SB1477, requiring the Secretary of State (SOS) to notify county recorders of relevant felony convictions every month.
Democrats may have messed up on inflation, immigration, and Afghanistan, not to mention China, Russia, Covid, and crime, but they are determined to have a win over “voting rights.”
President Biden has declared it his number one issue, surpassing even climate change! With Americans becoming fed up with the Democrat governance, they see “voting rights” as their lifeline to future viability as a party.
So, President Biden echoes many of them when condemning voter ID. “There is an unfolding assault taking place in America today – an attempt to suppress and subvert the right to vote in free and fair elections, an assault on democracy, an assault on liberty, an assault on who we are as Americans.”
He further alleged that “bullies and merchants of fear and peddlers of lies are threatening the very foundations of our country.” He suggested that requiring ID is the moral equivalent of returning people to slavery.
The mantra is picked up and repeated millions of times. Outraged students conduct a hunger strike. Labor unions protest the loss of the franchise. Letters to the editor are filled with indignant condemnations of the Republican attack. Woke corporations punish Georgia for passing legislation threatening “voting rights” by moving baseball’s All-Star game to Minnesota.
But there’s one thing missing in all the heated rhetoric: any indication of what in the world they are specifically talking about, any evidence that one, even one, eligible voter would be unable to vote or be unduly inconvenienced by the election integrity legislation.
Their claims are belied by our own history and international comparisons. With 34 states involved in election integrity reforms, there are a lot of moving parts, but the sticking points are bulk mail voting and voter ID.
HR 1, the Right to Vote Act before Congress, which the Democrats and their Greek chorus in the media insist is critical to the preservation of democracy, mandates all states to allow bulk mail voting and categorically prohibits photo ID requirements.
But in 2005, the Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform examined these very issues. The bipartisan commission was headed by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker, a moderate Republican. They sensibly pointed out that absentee voting makes fraud more likely. Absentee voters are more likely to experience pressure and undue influence.
The Commission also concluded that vote buying schemes are far easier when citizens vote by mail. The commission proposed a uniform system requiring all voters to present ID as a condition of voting, like when entering the courthouse, flying in an airplane, or buying beer.
If the election integrity proposals are such a flagrant attack on democracy, then other democracies would not tolerate them, right? But the fact is the US is a distinct outlier among the world’s democracies in not requiring voter ID. Of the 47 European countries, 46 require government issued photo ID to vote, and the UK seems poised to follow suit.
By international standards, we also have shockingly loose rules for voting by mail. 35 of those 47 European countries don’t allow mail-in voting at all for citizens living in-country. 10 other countries allow absentee voting but require voters to appear in person with a photo ID to obtain their ballot. The practice of mailing out ballots in bulk either to all voters or those on a permanent list (Arizona’s practice) is unheard of.
In the US, ballots are typically mailed in bulk without requesting photo ID, no chain of evidence, no safeguards against improper influence or even selling, and then “harvested” for return to authorities.
This is tantamount to begging for fraud, even more so because perps know it would be largely undetectable. Entry-level reform, backed by 80% of voters, would require an ID to obtain any ballot, mail-in or otherwise
The wild charges about returning to Jim Crow and our democracy in peril are blatant scare tactics. Never in our history or anywhere else has there been more open access to voting.
This isn’t about stealing elections or justifying January 6. It’s about strengthening our democracy by assuring Americans they can have confidence in our elections and that their vote will count.
During the House Oversight Committee’s Thursday hearing on the Arizona Senate’s audit, Congressman Andy Biggs (R-AZ-05) criticized Democrats’ rhetoric and conduct. Biggs accused Democrats of hypocrisy for both praising and condemning the audit. He further claimed that Democrats cherry-picked data from the audit report to fit a narrative.
“You know the Democrats can’t really have it both ways, can they?” asked Biggs. “You cannot say that the audit showed the integrity of the election, while at the same time claiming that the mere fact of an audit, in and of itself, is a threat existentially. You can’t do that. It’s a fallacious, logical inconsistency.”
The committee announced the hearing Wednesday to discuss “how this and similar audits undermine public confidence in elections and threaten our democracy.” Two of Maricopa County’s election officials, Supervisor Bill Gates and Chairman Jack Sellers, testified.
As part of his opening statement, Biggs revealed that Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY-12) told him that Democrats were critical of the audit and had an agenda before it even began. Maloney also reportedly shared that her fellow Democrats were opposed to any legislative changes to improve election integrity.
Biggs reminded the committee that one of the major audit focuses, Maricopa County, hasn’t always had a spotless elections reputation.
“In 2018, in Maricopa County, most of you may not know this, there were such problems with the Maricopa County election that the Democrat county recorder – who was the elections official for the county, Adrian Fontes – got to go under scrutiny by this board of supervisors, who took everything back from him that they possibly could legally and statutorily. That’s the history of problems in Maricopa County in our voting.”
Additionally, Biggs reminded the committee that every losing political party since 2001 has cast doubts on the fairness and impartiality of the results.
“You cannot argue that questions regarding election integrity from the right is an attack on our democracy, our constitutional republic – especially after four years of the Democrats claiming that the 2016 presidential election was stolen because of Russian interference,” said Biggs. “I advocated for a full forensic audit because I felt election integrity should be restored.”
According to the congressman, Maricopa County’s own audit efforts were dwarfed in comparison to their efforts to stop the Senate audit.
“[They] spent $18,000 for those two audits, but spent literally hundreds of thousands of dollars [and engaged in] multiple lawsuits to prevent the audit that we’re discussing today,” observed Biggs.
On Tuesday, the Democrats in the Arizona House of Representatives attempted to prevent a vote on an election integrity bill, and then when that failed, Rep. Athena Salman called for a boycott of the state if the bill passed.
Earlier in the day, Democrat lawmakers refused to show up to work in order to prevent a quorum as part of their effort to block a vote on SB1485.
Later, in a vote along party lines, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita’s bill passed and is now headed back to the Senate.
SB1485 would remove people from the Early Voting List (EV), who don’t return their mail ballot for two consecutive election cycles from the permanent list, which allows voters to automatically receive a ballot before each election.
Not everyone shared Salman’s view. Sen. TJ Shope, a moderate Republican, tweeted his support for the bill:
I look forward to supporting SB1485 in the Senate. It’s NOT unreasonable to send a notice to a PEVL voter after NOT voting in FOUR consecutive elections and confirming their intent to remain on PEVL. The hyperbole surrounding this bill is disgusting & offensive to POC like myself https://t.co/tLTfGLYtyM
Sen. Salman and the Arizona House Democrats continue to make discredited statements about SB1485, including allegations that the bill would “purge” the early voting list and “infringe” on voting rights.
The reason the bill heads back to the Senate is that it was amended to win the support of more Republican lawmakers in the House.
The amendment softened the bill, according to experts.
Before the amendments, a person could be removed from EVL after not using an early ballot in two consecutive primaries and general elections. Under the amendments, a person would have to miss all elections within a two-year period including city or other minor elections, to be dropped from the EVL.
In all cases, voters remain registered to vote. They are simply dropped from the list of mail-in ballot recipients.
A bill proposing to strengthen election integrity was withdrawn from a Senate committee this week, after passage in the House. It was introduced by State Representative Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek).
The bill would have prohibited any government officials from changing election-related dates, on the threat of a class 6 felony. Specifically, no state officers or agents, political subdivisions, or agencies could modify deadlines, filing dates, submission dates, or any other statutory election dates.
Class 6 felonies are the least harsh of all felonies, and may entail a year’s prison time.
The bill passed the House in a close, party-line vote 31-29.
An amendment to the bill would provide an exception to the proposed bill if a court ruling were to come into play. However, it would prohibit election officials from agreeing to modify deadlines and other election-related dates as part of a settlement agreement.
Last year, the state saw a spike of over 52,000 voters added to the rolls after an 18-day extension for voter registration. The initiative was cut short after a federal appeals court ordered the extension to end over a week early. Even with the order, the court allowed citizens a two day grace period to continue registering.
The challenge to the extension largely arose from the additional burdens that such an extension caused to local election officials. The extension would have allowed voters to register up to a little more than one week out from Election Day. In the past, election officials had nearly a month before the election to process registrants.
Currently, the state is pending an audit for the 2020 election. The audit would focus on Maricopa County, where The Senate hired four companies to review around 2.1 million Maricopa County ballots. Last November, the Senate issued subpoenas for all county ballots and voting machines for another audit. A federal judge ruled that the county didn’t have to comply with that request, since the Senate had improperly filed it.
Once the Senate refiled, legislators and county officials engaged in a heated battle over transparency. The judge quickly ruled on the side of the Senate.
It is unclear the reason for the bill’s withdrawal. Following the 2020 election, Hoffman was banned from Twitter and Facebook.
Corinne Murdock is a contributing reporter for AZ Free News. In her free time, she works on her books and podcasts. Follow her on Twitter, @CorinneMurdock or email tips to email@example.com.