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

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.

Mesnard And Ugenti-Rita Push Back Against Claims That Election Integrity Bills Equal Suppression

Mesnard And Ugenti-Rita Push Back Against Claims That Election Integrity Bills Equal Suppression

By B. Hamilton |

An exasperated Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita was joined by Sen. JD Mesnard on Monday at a press conference held in anticipation of votes in the Arizona House on their election integrity legislation. Mesnard and Ugenti-Rita fielded questions and pushed back hard against suggestions that reforms amount to voter suppression.

“Don’t let the screen door hit ya, where the good Lord split ya,” said Ugenti-Rita in response to a reporter’s question as to whether the reforms would prompt people to leave Arizona.

Contrary to the reporter’s question, the reforms sought by Mesnard and Ugenti-Rita would send few fleeing from the state as the bills enjoy widespread support according to recent polling.

Mesnard’s bill, SB1713, would add requirements to the early balloting process designed to help ensure the voter is the person using the ballot.

“The premise behind the bill is simple. We wanted to create continuity and standardization across the various methods of voting. If it was good enough for those voting in person, it should be good enough for those voting by mail,” said Sen. Mesnard, who sponsored SB1713. “Immediately the bill was condemned by radical progressive groups and those willing to perpetuate their outrageous narrative. Yet, no one could explain to me why having the same or similar process in both cases was bad public policy. It seemed no one was interested in debating the bill for what it actually did.”

SB1713 would simply require voters that vote by mail to include additional identification when voting.

Ugenti-Rita’s bill, SB1485, would drop a voter from the Early Voting List only after they received a ballot by mail and refused to vote it on four consecutive occasions (elections).

“Election integrity is non-negotiable,” she said. “We’re not going to back down from something that’s reasonable, that is commonsense, and protects the integrity of our elections.”

While the issue of election integrity has been a contentious one at the state legislature this session, a recent poll shows that a majority of Arizona voters support election integrity reforms with big majorities in favor of voter ID laws.

“The vast majority of Americans support voter ID laws and election integrity reforms,” said Arizona Free Enterprise Club President Scot Mussi. “The Club commends Senators Mesnard and Ugenti-Rita for sponsoring bills that help make Arizona’s election system more accessible and fraud-proof. And we call on the House to pass both SB1713 and SB1485.”

Both bills come after the turbulent 2020 election, where many voters and lawmakers were left questioning the election process.

Bill To Rename And Clean Up Permanent Early Voting List Heads To House

Bill To Rename And Clean Up Permanent Early Voting List Heads To House

On Tuesday, the Arizona Senate passed SB1485, a bill sponsored by Sen. Ugenti-Rita intended to clean up the permanent early voting list.

SB1485 requires a county recorder to remove a voter from the list, now dubbed the Early Voting List (EVL) and stop sending the voter early ballots if the voter fails to vote by early ballot in both the primary election and the general election for two consecutive primary and general elections in which there was a federal, statewide or legislative race on the ballot.

The bill also requires a county recorder or other officer in charge of elections to notify a voter on the EVL who did not vote an early ballot in both the primary and the general election for the two most recent general elections for federal office by December 1 of each even-numbered year prior to removing that voter from the EVL.

The bill passed along party lines in a vote of 16 – 14.

According to an AP report, approximately 200,000 registered voters currently meet the criteria to be dropped from the list. If the bill passes, they would get a letter asking them whether they want to remain on the permanent early voting list and would be removed if they don’t respond.

Nothing in the bill prevents a voter from being placed back on the list.

Bill To Clean Up Early Voting Lists Goes To Senate Floor

Bill To Clean Up Early Voting Lists Goes To Senate Floor

By Terri Jo Neff |

State senators are expected to debate Monday whether to approve a bill that requires Arizona’s 15 county recorders to drop registered voters from the Permanent Early Voting List (PEVL) who do not respond to a drop-notification letter that they have not utilized their mail-in ballots in a four-year period.

Since 2007, registered voters have been allowed to submit a written request to add their name to PEVL, which ensures the voter automatically receives a ballot by mail for each election instead of having to request one every time. More than 3 million voters in Arizona are on PEVL.

State law specifies that a failure to vote by early ballot does not constitute grounds to be removed from PEVL, although there are estimates that more than 100,000 PEVL voters across Arizona have not voted by early ballot in the last four years.

In January, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-LD23) introduced SB1069 which would have required county recorders to remove PEVL voters who do not cast their early ballot for two consecutive primary and general elections for which there was a federal, statewide or legislative race on the ballot.

The intent, according to Ugenti-Rita, is to ensure unwanted ballots are not mailed out, saving counties money and ensuring ballot integrity. PEVL would become EVL if the bill passes.

“There’s a cost associated with sending out ballots to people who aren’t voting by mail,” she said during one a committee meeting last month. “There’s also an integrity component,”

Every time a PEVL voter casts an early ballot in a primary or general election that includes a federal, statewide or legislative race it would restart the voter’s drop-off clock. Being removed from PEVL has no impact on a voter’s registration status.

As a safeguard, Ugenti-Rita’s legislation requires the county recorders or other county elections officials to send a written notification by Dec. 1 of each even-numbered year to any PEVL voter identified as being subject to removal. Such voters who wish to remain on PEVL must then send back a signed notice with their address and date of birth within 30 days.

On Feb. 16, Ugenti-Rita’s bill failed to pass the Senate Committee on Government on a 15-15 vote. Days later the text of SB1069 was swapped into SB1485, another election-related legislation. The full Senate is slated to vote on SB1485 on Monday.

The legislation is supported by the Barry Goldwater Institute for Public Policy Research, but has been opposed by the Stonewall Democrats of Arizona, the Arizona Education Association, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. Another PAC which opposes SB1069-turned-SB1485 is Unite Arizona, a political action committee financed by the Unite America Election Fund based in Denver.

Despite the fact that Arizona has one of the most progressive early voting processes, Unite America/Arizona is fighting an effort to ensure that early ballots get to living residents of the state. The group’s website continues to use the now-challenged claim that election equipment can be hacked in order to sell their voting reform package which includes only mail-in ballot elections.

According TransparencyUSA.org, the Unite American Election Fund gave more than $850,000 in the past year to Unite Arizona. In turn, Unite Arizona gave $505,000 to Our Arizona Values, representing all of the funds received by that group.

Public records show 99 percent of the funds received by Our Arizona Values was paid to Polestar, which spent nearly $240,000 last year in an unsuccessful effort to unseat Sen. Nancy Barto (R-LD15) in the Republican primary. Barto is seen as strong voice on the Senate Judiciary Committee and has introduced bills this session aimed at election integrity issues.

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As sponsor of the bill, Ugenti-Rita has spent a lot of time responding to attacks by legislators who contend dropping voters from PEVL interferes with voting rights. She said during last week’s Senate Rules Committee meeting that she was offended by how some opponents appeared to be “purposefully mischaracterizing” the bill in an attempt “to demonize it” with voters.

“If you want to oppose the bill because there’s an actual provision in there that you don’t like, I mean, I get it,” she said last week. “But attacking voting rights? This is a voluntary list that we’re taking about. There is no right to be on PEVL.”

Ugenti-Rita added that suggestions by some legislators that the bill attacks individuals’ rights to vote or that it could prohibit someone from voting “is very dangerous rhetoric in a time when inflammatory, incendiary language should not be utilized especially when we are discussing relevant policy.”

The now-SB1485 is quite different from a PEVL bill introduced this session by Rep. Kevin Payne (R-LD21) who sought to do away with PEVL completely, even though in some counties more than 80 percent of all ballots cast in the 2020 General Election came in via mail or were dropped off early.

Meanwhile, election-related Senate Bill 1025 introduced by Sen. Kelly Townsend (R-LD16) passed the Senate on a 16 to 14 vote last week and is awaiting a First Read in the House.

SB1025 had been expected to receive greater bi-partisan support as it was intended to ensure voters understood what it meant if a machine reader alerted to an overvote situation. The bill requires election officials or polling station judges to know what an overvote (or undervote) warning means so they can explain it to in-person voters who might be faced with such a warning.

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.