PHOENIX - Some groups are threatening to sue if lawmakers adopt new restrictions on early voting and who can take someone else's ballot to the polls, claiming the measures target minorities.
John Loredo said Monday that the two measures, likely up for a House vote this week, violate the federal Voting Rights Act. That law precludes states from altering any voting laws in a way that puts new restrictions in the path of minority voting.
And Monica Sandschafer, of One Arizona, said the two bills are no accident.
"This is a direct response to the Latino vote," she said at a Monday press conference at the Capitol.
But Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, the sponsor of both measures, said they are a legitimate response to real problems.
And Secretary of State Ken Bennett, the state's chief election officer, said charges of partisan or political motives ring hollow. He pointed out the changes are supported by all 15 county recorders, eight of whom are Democrats.
Two measures are at issue.
Existing law allows individuals to sign up for a "permanent early voter list." That means they automatically get their ballots in the mail ahead of each election.
They can choose to mail them back, drop them directly at the polls or give them to someone else to drop off on Election Day.
SB 1261 proposes someone on the permanent early voter list who does not cast an early ballot two election cycles in a row will no longer get an early ballot unless he or she mails back a card requesting continuation.
And SB 1003 would limit who can take someone else's ballot to the polls. Anyone else handling the ballot would be guilty of a crime.
Bennett said the first is designed to deal with problems last year when more than 170,000 individuals who were on the early voting list instead showed up at the polls without that early ballot.
Since there was no record at the polling place of whether they had mailed their early ballots, they were forced to vote "provisional" ballots, Bennett said, delaying final results. The problem was complicated by people turning in large numbers of early ballots on Election Day.
Bennett said SB 1261 is designed to deal more than with the Election Day hassles.
"Many people told the counties when they had to vote a provisional ballot this year, 'What? I didn't know I was on that list. I don't want to be on that list. I vote at the polls,' " Bennett said. He said if they're not casting early ballots - and they do not return that postcard after two elections - then they should be automatically removed.
Loredo, however, sees something more sinister. He said it was the outreach of voting-rights groups that got more minorities involved, people who are more likely to use early ballots.
Sandschafer said the limit on delivering ballots also is a direct shot at groups like hers, which have done a great deal to involve minorities in voting.
"Who is Senator Reagan to tell a voter who that voter can give a ballot to?" she said. "It's pretty paternalistic to tell a voter that if you trust a volunteer that's working with an organization to take your ballot ... in for you, that you don't get to make that choice."
That's only partly true.
The legislation would permit voters to sign an affidavit on the early-voting envelope designating another specific person to return that ballot. It does say, however, that early ballots cannot be returned by paid employees or volunteers of any political committee or similar group.
Reagan said there's nothing unduly restrictive about that.
"Try to find one other state that lets an individual walk into a polling place with 4,000 ballots," she said. "It's laughable."
Loredo said an analysis done by Promise Arizona, one of the groups involved in opposing the two bills, showed minorities were far more likely to vote with a provisional ballot than their numbers would suggest. But Reagan said the legislative district with the largest number of people forced to use provisional ballots was her Scottsdale district, which has a relatively small number of minorities.
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