State House Passes 2 Election Integrity Bills

State House Passes 2 Election Integrity Bills

By Terri Jo Neff |

While budget negotiations continued behind closed doors, the State House got back into action Monday by focusing on one of its showcase subjects – election integrity.

On a 31-29 party line vote, representatives passed SB1083 which if signed into law would change the criteria for when an election recount is necessary for some races.  Depending on the race, recounts are currently only mandated is the margin of victory for a candidate between 10 and 200 votes, or one-tenth of one percent or less of the combined total votes cast for the top two candidates.

Under SB1083, a recount will be triggered in most races when the margin of victory is one-half of one percent or less.  Supporters of the bill have pointed out for months that an automatic recount would have been triggered for the U.S. President race if Arizona had the new margin formula in place in November 2020.

The other bill passed Monday was SB1241 which involves the signature a voter is required to affix on an early ballot affidavit.  If signed into law, it would require county election officials to refer certain non-matching signatures to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office or the local county attorney.

More than 80 percent of ballots cast in the 2020 General Election were early ballots which had to be mailed in a special envelope to the county recorder’s or dropped off at an official ballot box. Upon receipt, a county recorder employee verified the voter’s signature on the envelope by comparing it to digital copies of all prior signatures used by that voter.

If the signature did not appear to match the voter’s registration file, then the county recorder’s office would reach out to that voter who is given a choice to “cure” the signature within a specific time period. If the voter chooses not to cure the signature, or if local election officials cannot reach the voter, then the ballot inside that envelope is not counted.

Statewide, less than 2,000 out of the more than 3 million early ballots cast in the 2020 General Election were not counted based on a non-matching signature flag. It is unclear how many of those ballot affidavits were actually signed by someone other than the voter, or how many voters given an opportunity to cure chose not to because of COVID-19 or being out of state.

Rep. John Kavanagh has argued during this legislative session that elections officials and prosecutors need more options in their toolbox for addressing possible fraud.  And he has complained that reports of there being little to no fraud connected to early voting is disingenuous without consistent statewide protocols.

“It’s easy to claim there’s no fraud in early ballots if you never look for fraud, even when it may be staring you right in the face,” he said Monday.

One issue facing smaller counties is that many of their county attorney’s offices do not have investigators. As a result, any investigatory work would likely have to be referred to the local county sheriff or even a local police department.

That possibility was the subject of questions raised during Monday’s floor debate about what protections would be in place to ensure the ballot itself is not identifiable to multiple people as possibly belonging to a specific voter.  The Arizona Constitution guarantees a voter’s ballot choices are secret.

Because SB1241 was amended in the House, it has been transmitted back to the Senate for final action. It is expected to pass there on a party line vote and then head to Gov. Doug Ducey who has not said much about what election bills he may sign.

Bills Would Change Recounts Thresholds And When Voters Are Dropped From Early Ballot List

Bills Would Change Recounts Thresholds And When Voters Are Dropped From Early Ballot List

Members for the Arizona Senate Committee on Government will take up two bills Thursday which seek to amend state election laws, including one that would force county election officials to remove some inactive voters from the Permanent Early Voter List (PEVL).

Being on the PEVL ensures an Arizona voter is automatically mailed an early ballot -also referred to as an absentee ballot- for any election in which the voter is eligible to vote. A voter can then return their completed ballot by mail or drop it in an official ballot box on or before election day.

Most Arizona counties reported 60 to 80 percent of all votes cast in the 2020 General Election were mail-in ballots.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-LD23) is seeking to amend Arizona Revised Statute 16-544 which governs eligibility for the PEVL. Her bill, SB1069, would require counties to cull their PEVL of certain voters who do not consistently utilize early balloting unless the voter completes and returns a special form.

The senator, who chairs the Senate Committee on Government, has been outspoken in her belief that changes are needed to Arizona’s election laws in order to restore voter confidence in the process. Her bill would help identify voters who no longer live in Arizona, are perhaps incarcerated, or who may even be deceased.

ARS §16-544 currently requires a voter to be dropped from the PEVL upon the voter’s written request or if the voter is no longer registered or eligible to vote. The county recorder will also remove a voter from the list if an early ballot mailing has been returned undeliverable and election officials have been unable to contact the voter.

According to the proposed bill, the county recorder or other elections officer would also be required to notify a voter of impending removal from the PEVL if the voter “fails to vote using an early ballot in both the primary election and the general election for two consecutive primary and general elections for which there was a federal, statewide or legislative race on the ballot.”

To remain on the PEVL, the voter would have to return the county’s notice within 30 days and provide their address, date of birth, and signature. There is no provision in SB1069 for allowing a voter to submit a signed letter with the same information.

Also on Thursday’s agenda for the senate committee meeting is SB1083, which seeks to amend ARS §16-661 governing when an automatic recount is mandated during a primary or general election.

Currently there are six trigger points for an automatic recount based on the type of office and the number of votes cast in a particular race. There are also several exemptions to automatic recounts, including elections for school district governing boards, community college district governing boards, fire district boards, fire district chiefs, fire district secretary-treasurers, other special district boards, and precinct committeemen.

But SB1083, sponsored by Ugenti-Rita as well, would remove the exemptions. It would also simplify the vote margin for when an automatic recount is triggered by doing away with five of the provisions. Instead, the bill would set an across-the-board automatic recount margin of one-half of one percent of the votes cast in a race.

There has been no First Read on SB1083 as of Jan. 19.