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Arizona Republicans end election reform stalemate with slate of bipartisan bills

Republican lawmakers approved a slate of election reform bills Tuesday, shifting a GOP stalemate in the Arizona Legislature.

Election reform has become a vital issue for Arizona Republicans who claim integrity concerns following the 2020 presidential election of Joe Biden.

House Bill 2237 prohibits same-day voter registration. Under the bill, a person who violates the proposed law could face a class 6 felony charge. Arizona currently does not offer same-day voter registration, though 20 other states and the District of Columbia do.

Democrats like state Senator Martin Quezada of West Phoenix believe this bill would stand in the way of benchmarking off those voting jurisdictions.

“There are multiple other states that have adopted same-day voter registration, and that have had great success with that process of registering voters on the same day,” said Quezada in a Senate floor session. “And it makes a lot of sense to do this. One, because people are mobile, people move, especially in certain communities, communities of color in my district, people are moving all the time.”

Quezada continued by insisting the bill enacts no change.

“If we had the votes to pass same-day voter registration, we’d have the same votes to just overturn this law as well,” Quezada said. “So, this bill literally does nothing. And all it is a platform for us to further espouse the Big Lie.”

Proponents of the bill argue it’s essential to protect the integrity of future elections.

“I just like to remind everybody back in 2020, [an] individual by the name of Adrian Fontes apparently didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to send out mail-in ballots to everybody and took it on his own to try to send people ballots who are not registered,” said state Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita, a Republican from Scottdale. “So, unfortunately, we have to reinforce what the law already says, which is you’re not supposed to do it.”

Fontes, a Phoenix-based Democrat, is the former Maricopa County recorder. He oversaw mail-in voting in 2020 and is now running for Arizona secretary of state.

Ugenti-Rita is also running for secretary of state. In March, she and her colleague Senator Paul Boyer, a Republican from Glendale, voted against a controversial slate of election reform bills to the chagrin of some of their congressional GOP counterparts.

Both senators voted yes to HB 2237 on Tuesday.

The bill, sponsored by state Representative Jake Hoffman of Queen Creek, passed the open Senate floor session 16-12, along party lines. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for final action before it lands on Republican Governor Doug Ducey’s desk.

Ugenti-Rita later had her own sponsored election bill, Senate Bill 1008, approved in the state House. Under SB 1008, an automatic recount would occur at the county level if an election count was within 0.5 percent between the two candidates. 

House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding of Phoenix supported that bill, leading to a wave of Democratic support.

“One way that you get around ridiculous audits like we’ve seen here in Arizona is to make sure that you have policies in place that are reasonable, a recount of five-tenths of a percent,” said Bolding in a House floor session. “If a race is decided by that [margin], an automatic recount is not something that would be over burdensome. I do support this bill. And with that, I vote yes.”

The bill passed 50-1, with only Pamela Powers Hannley, a Democrat from Tucson, dissenting.

Boyer’s election bill also saw bipartisan support in the House.

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Senate Bill 1329 mandates a county recorder to provide a real-time tabulation of ballots on Election Day by counting the number of early ballots returned at voting locations. The county recorder would also post these totals with the latest unofficial election count on its website.

SB 1329 purportedly addresses right-wing claims that late, unconfirmed ballots added to the vote total toward the end of the Arizona election and swayed the election to Biden and away from former President Donald Trump.

State Representative Teresa Martinez, a Republican from Maricopa who worked as a staff member for pro-Trump Republican Representative Paul Gosar, was brief in her comments.

“Two thousand mules,” Martinez said, referencing a pro-Trump movie from conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza in explaining her vote. “And with that, I vote no.”

The film claims without evidence that mules, or people dropping off multiple ballots, contributed to mass election fraud.

State Representative John Fillmore, a Republican from Apache Junction, was more direct in why he opposed the bill, condemning Boyer in the process.

“We have only passed three bills that dealt with election integrity,” Fillmore said. “Over in the Senate, there have been 41 failed bills this year, of which 14 of them dealt with election integrity. The same sponsor of this bill is the one that killed 13 of those 14. And this bill, when you look at it, is an insult to the intellect of the people of the state of Arizona. Because if you looked at [the] bill, the first two words, if practicable, this bill doesn’t do a darn thing but insult our caucus, the state of Arizona and Republicans. I’m proud to vote no.”

Despite some GOP opposition, Boyer’s bill passed with bipartisan support 37-12. Both SB 1329 and SB 1008 will be sent to the Senate for final administrative action before heading to Ducey’s desk.

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