On Wednesday, the Arizona House approved a Senate bill to repeal the governor’s current executive powers in public health emergencies.
Instead, SB1009 would ensure governors only have the authority to issue a state of emergency for public health emergencies for 30 days. After that, the governor would be limited to extending that state of emergency for 30 days at a time with a limit of 120 days or about four months. Once that time is exhausted, the state legislature must consent to any new state of emergency.
The governor wouldn’t be able to extend the state of emergency more than once without additional reporting requirements. After 60 days of an emergency, the governor must submit a written report to a joint committee of the Senate and House health committees. That committee will assess the report along with a Arizona Department of Health Services briefing and publish a public review of the extension.
SB1009 also empowers the state legislature to extend the state of an emergency for public health emergencies as well. Those extensions would be limited to 30 days, too.
The bill passed along party lines. It now heads to Governor Doug Ducey for final approval.
Ducey only ended the COVID-19 state of emergency at the end of last month: well over two years after the initial state of emergency was issued.
This legislative session covered other changes to Arizona’s state of emergency protocol. Ducey signed HB2507 on Monday, ensuring that religious services would be considered essential during a state of emergency. Over the last two years, other state governments forced the closure of religious buildings and worship gatherings, punishing those who dared to defy their public health orders in order to exercise their religious freedoms.
Arizona’s Permanent Early Voter List (PEVL) is no longer permanent, after Gov. Doug Ducey signed one of Arizona’s most important pieces of election integrity legislation in years on Tuesday.
The Arizona Senate approved SB1485 earlier in the day to ensure Arizona voters receive a mail-in ballot only if they signed-up to and now wish to continue automatically receiving a ballot before each election. It provides for a voter’s removal from the newly named Early Voting List (EVL) if a voter did not cast a ballot in at least one of four consecutive elections and did not respond to messages from their county recorder to remain on the list.
“This bill is a modest, but critical step toward restoring confidence in our election system,” sponsor Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita stated in a press release.
Proponents of SB1485 touted its cost-savings impact for counties from only printing and paying postage for early ballots a voter expects to use. But the main impact, they said, would be ensuring that tens of thousands of early ballots are not mailed out to voters who no longer utilize the option.
Opponents of the bill deflected from the election integrity benefit and tried to characterize the bill as targeting minority populations to make it harder to vote.
However, being dropped from what is now EVL has no impact on a voter’s right to vote and all voters remain registered to vote. That was a message the governor focused on in his comments while signing SB1485 a short time after its passage in the Senate on a 16 to 14 vote.
“Let’s be clear — despite all the deceptive and heated rhetoric being used by some partisan activists to lobby against this reform, not a single Arizona voter will lose their right to vote as a result of this new law,” Ducey stated in a video his office released to announce that SB1485 had been signed.
Ugenti-Rita’s bill was amended several weeks ago to win the support of more Republican lawmakers in the House. The amendment softened the bill, according to experts, so that a voter would have to miss all elections within a two-year period -including any city or other minor elections- to be dropped from the EVL.
Ducey used the bill’s signing to push back on national companies inserting themselves into Arizona’s election laws.
“These big businesses have seemed to embrace a static view of elections,” he said. “Freeze the systems the way they are and view any change suspiciously. It’s wrong. Dead wrong.”
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.
While much of the spirited debate about election legislation has centered on what happens after the polls close, several bills have been introduced to change the process of how and when a voter can receive and cast a ballot. And at least two new felony offenses would be created as a result.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Jake Hoffman (R-LD12) would make a felon out of any city or town clerk, or county recorder or other election official who provides an early ballot to a voter did not request it at least 93 days before an election, unless the voter is on the permanent early voting list.
Hoffman’s bill, HB2792, prohibits sending out an early ballot unless the voter complies with all early voting laws, including the request deadline. The intent, according to Hoffman, is to avoid situations seen in many states in the 2020 General Election when election officials mailed out ballots under the guise of avoiding COVID-19 contact at polling places.
Knowingly issuing unauthorized early ballots would be a Class 5 felony, subject to a prison sentence of up to 2.5 years, comparable to the sentence for facilitating prostitution and aggravated assault on a peace officer. Hoffman’s bill cleared the House last week on a 31-28 margin and is now under consideration by the Senate.
Another bill, SB1106, passed the Senate by a 16 to 14 margin last week. It makes it a Class 6 felony for a person who knowingly registers to vote in Arizona “solely for the purpose of voting in an election in this state and without the requisite intent to remain.”
SB1106 sponsored by Sen. J.D. Mesnard (R-LD17) would amend ARS § 16-182, which currently requires a voter in Arizona to be a resident of the state for 29 days preceding an election and to have been registered to vote for the same period. It is now a Class 6 felony for someone to register to vote or to actually vote if the person knew they were not entitled to do so.
But under Mesnard’s bill, a new voter who moves away at some undefined amount of time after an election could have their voting action challenges and then have to prove at trial what their intent was at the time they voted.
A Class 6 felony is punishable by up to two years in prison as well as loss of several rights, including the ability to possess or own firearms. Comparable offenses are witness tampering, possession of drug paraphernalia, and theft of property less than $2,000.
Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-LD23) has had success with several election-related bills, including SB1002 which requires election officials to ensure that the envelopes used by voters to return early ballots do not reveal the voter’s political party affiliation. Her bill easily cleared the Senate on a 20 to 9 margin and is expected to be taken up by the House on Tuesday.
On Monday, the Senate transmitted SB1713, also by Mesnard, to the House on a 16 to 14 margin. The bill adds steps to the vote-by-mail process, so a voter cannot simply sign the affidavit on the ballot envelope and put it in the mailing envelope with the ballot.
SB1713 would also require the voter to include their date of birth on the affidavit and write their driver’s license or an acceptable government-issued ID number on the affidavit before placing it and the ballot in the mailing envelope. There would be a more complicated process for voters who do not have an acceptable government ID card.
If the bill passes, failure to follow any of the new affidavit requirements would cause the submitted ballot to be rejected.
Meanwhile, the House approved a bill last week that requires voters whose polling place uses paper ballots be offered a “ballot privacy folder” when given their ballot, although they do not have to use it. The bill, HB2362 by Rep. John Kavanagh (R-LD23), is now assigned to the Senate Committee on Government.