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Early-voting bill would disenfranchise thousands of Arizonans, protesters contend

A bill that would disqualify early election ballots that are missing signatures would violate voters’ rights, opponents say.

Senate Bill 1032 would throw out a vote if the envelope containing the ballot wasn’t signed as required – that signature confirms the person is registered to vote and voted on the ballot tucked inside.

The bill also would prohibit election officials from signing the envelope on the voter’s behalf, even if they had taken measures to compare the voter’s ballot signature with registration records.

Members of such grassroots organizations as Mi Familia Vota, Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy and Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA) said the bill would suppress votes.

“Potentially thousands of voters would be disenfranchised. It’s a major issue,” said Randy Perez, democracy director for LUCHA.

He said it would change the practice of someone from a county recorder’s office, which oversees elections, reaching out to a voter who sent in a ballot with a missing signature on the envelope.

At a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, said she introduced the bill to allow county recorders more flexibility to handle early ballots with missing signatures.

Leslie Hoffman, Yavapai County recorder, told the committee the bill just expands the process.

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“It just adds to what we’re already doing,” she said. “We reach out to election administrators. Our job is to count ballots, not reject them. We text, email, call. If we have time, we mail stuff out. It says exactly what we’re already doing. Everybody makes that effort. That’s our job.”

Perez, in an interview, disagreed and said the core issue is that many voters don’t understand the intricacies of election bureaucracy.

“The real issue is that this Legislature is not appropriating funds to educate the public,” he said. “It’s incumbent on nonprofits like ours to go out to the community to speak to folks and help them fill out their ballots.

“They want to talk about voter education, but I’d rather see a line-item budget appropriation for a couple of millions of dollars,” so the Legislature can “to strengthen our democracy.”

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Luis Torres/Cronkite News

Members of several grassroots organizations in Arizona stand during hearings for Senate Bill 1032. Opponents say it amounts to voter suppression, while supporters say it gives county recorders more flexibility.