Slew of election bills sent to Arizona House floor
Amid ongoing debates of election fraud, a House committee passed four bills aimed at increasing election transparency.
Democrats' dissent wasn’t enough to stop the Arizona House Municipal Oversight and Elections Committee from passing four bills aimed at election transparency on Wednesday.
The bills, all sponsored by Republicans, aimed to instill faith in the election process back into the hearts of Arizona voters, whom Republicans say have less trust following recent elections.
The House also voted to move along a bill affirming the Legislature’s support of the Electoral College.
Prohibiting the secretary of state from overseeing own election
The committee voted to pass to the house floor HB2308, a bill that would deem it illegal for the Arizona secretary of state to oversee and confirm the results of an election in which they are a candidate.
The bill, presented by Representative Rachel Jones, a Republican from Tucson, states that the secretary of state would instead have to publicly appoint someone to take on those duties.
“It’s just getting rid of any potential conflicts of interest with that individual,” Jones said during Wednesday afternoon’s committee meeting, “in an environment where there’s already a lack of trust in the election process.”
Jones pointed to a Rasmussen report that indicates 71% of likely voters agreed that the 2022 Arizona Senate election was “botched.” She also said that 65% of Democrats felt that the election in Maricopa County was unfair.
Representative Cesar Aguilar, a Democrat from Phoenix, said the bill doesn't intend to avoid conflicts of interest but instead to attack Democrat Governor Katie Hobbs, who served as secretary of state during the 2022 election in which she became governor.
“Do you have any concrete evidence that there were any misdeeds from the secretary of state in the 2022 election or does this address mere hypothetical concerns that are coming from your constituents?” asked Representative Oscar De Los Santos, a Democrat from Laveen.
“It was more just the optics,” Jones replied. “It was instilling a lack of confidence in the results of the election.”
Committee Chair Jacqueline Parker, a Republican representative from Mesa, said a lawsuit filed by Hobbs against the Cochise County Board of Supervisors for refusing to certify the election was an overstep of power, leading some to believe there was corruption within the system. Jones claimed people in Cochise County were threatened with jail time by Hobbs’ attorney, which eventually led to the certification.
While stifling a smile, De Los Santos said an attorney can’t jail someone, but Republicans said the threat itself was enough to influence the election certification.
There has been no evidence of corruption within the election process, leading some to say the bill isn’t tackling real issues.
“This bill addresses concerns about a problem that has yet to manifest itself in recent history,” said Jodi Liggett, speaking on behalf of the Arizona League of Women Voters. “Out of 51 secretaries of state who ran for higher office from 2002 to 2020, only three publicly recused themselves in any matter. Not a single state has enacted a requirement for recusal in these circumstances.”
Representative Justin Heap, a Republican from Phoenix, said the circumstances of the 2020 election shouldn’t matter to what he called a “common sense” bill.
“It’s rare you get a bill so obvious and apparent that you have to wonder if it’s partisanship that’s making you vote against it,” he said. “If you stopped any Arizonan on the street and asked them if they think election officials running for office should be allowed to administer their own election, there’s no question they would all agree: no.”
Representative Laura Terech, a Democrat from Scottsdale, was the only one of four Democrats to vote in favor of the bill. Each of the six Republicans voted for it, sending the bill to the House by a vote of 7-3.
Prohibiting election officers from engaging in PACs
The committee unanimously voted to pass along HB3278, a bill prohibiting the secretary of state, county supervisors, county recorders and all other election officers from associating in any way with political action committees.
“This really just brings trust back to the election process,” said bill sponsor Leo Biasiucci, the Republican majority leader and a representative from Lake Havasu City.
Worried about how reducing the pool of eligible election officers might affect already-understaffed polling places, Terech asked if the bill includes poll workers and marshals.
Representative Alexander Kolodin, a Republican from Scottsdale who proposed an amendment to the bill clarifying the definition of an election official, said it would include those people if they are paid by the county but not if they are volunteers.
Biasiucci and Kolodin said part of the bill’s goal is to eliminate what De Los Santos called “dark money” — campaign donations that are not traceable to a source. De Los Santos asked Biasiucci if he’d consider adding an amendment saying that election officers can’t publicly endorse candidates, but Biasiucci said he worries that would infringe on people’s First Amendment rights.
Courts should “aggressively” favor more transparency in election decisions
The committee split along party lines regarding HB2319 a bill that would tell judges to "aggressively" favor an election-law interpretation that provides greater transparency.
Kolodin, the bill’s sponsor, said he hopes the bill will simplify “sloppily written” laws he said are indiscernible to well-practiced attorneys, let alone average citizens.
“This provides the Legislature’s guidance to say to the judge that what we really care about is public transparency,” he said.
De Los Santos took issue with the word “aggressively.”
“I have concerns that this overemphasizes transparency at the expense of voter privacy, for example,” he said.
Liggett echoed his concern, warning that “transparency trumping everything” can lead to the Legislature exerting too much control over other branches of government.
Kolodin argued that the bill wouldn’t exert power over the courts or jeopardize voter privacy; it would simply provide courts with guidance in interpreting confusing laws in the spirit of transparency.
Republicans prevailed 6-4, sending the bill to the floor.
Codifying signature verification guidelines
The committee was again split, with Republicans in favor, regarding a bill to codify the signature verification process that Hobbs enacted for the 2020 election when she was secretary of state.
HB2322 states that the signature on a ballot envelope must be compared with the signature in an elector’s registration record. Those guidelines should be the minimum requirement for verification.
“Right now, Arizona law says officers have to do signature verification on early ballots,” Kolodin said. “But unfortunately, there’s no law that actually says how.
“It’s better to have some rules, no matter what they are, than no rules at all.”
He said the bill allows county officials to increase requirements if they choose.
The bill passed to the House 6-4.
HB2305, a bill to allow representatives of the two largest political parties to observe each stage of the verification process for early, provisional and conditional provisional ballots was scheduled for Wednesday but was tabled due to issues with amendments, Parker said at the beginning of the meeting.
Affirming the Electoral College
The committee ended its afternoon meeting on the Electoral College, passing HB2477 to codify its support for the election system into law.
“As a state, it’s important for us to recognize (the founding fathers’ vision) and do it through codifying it,” said bill sponsor and Republican representative from Goodyear Steve Montenegro. “By doing it, we’re able to demonstrate our values.”
Kolodin and Heap supported the bill, arguing that without the Electoral College, states without the massive population sizes of California and New York would lose their voices in the federal government.
The Democrats disagreed.
“I believe in the idea of one person, one vote,” De Los Santos said as he voted against the bill.
The bill was passed 6-4, again divided by party lines.