Brewer signs measure changing voting laws

2013-06-20T00:00:00Z Brewer signs measure changing voting lawsHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
June 20, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - Gov. Jan Brewer penned her approval Wednesday to a series of changes in voting laws that Democrats and others say are designed to give her Republican Party an edge in future elections.

The legislation, which will take effect later this year, sets up a procedure to stop sending early ballots to voters who have not used them in two election cycles.

Rep. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, said the people this is most likely to affect are voters who are newly signed up through registration drives, voters who, at least initially, may be less in the habit of voting. And those voters, he said, are most likely Democrats.

That contention is disputed by Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale. She said the highest number of people who have ignored their early ballots - and would be subject to no longer getting them in the mail - are in her Scottsdale legislative district.

But Reagan conceded the reason for this could be the high number of home foreclosures in the district, with ballots mailed to people who are no longer there.

The new law also makes it a crime for members of those very groups that do the voter-registration drives to pick up someone's early ballot and take it to the polls for them.

The measure also contains language designed to make it easier for foes of voter-proposed laws to block them from appearing on the ballot.

Under current law, initiative petitions need be only in "substantial compliance" with the law. That means innocent mistakes that do not materially affect an initiative can be overlooked.

This law says there must be "strict compliance," allowing those who do not want what initiative organizers have proposed to knock the measures off the ballot even before voters get a chance to weigh in.

This is more than an academic question.

Last year's Proposition 204, to create a permanent 1-cent hike in sales taxes, was allowed to remain on the ballot after the Arizona Supreme Court concluded backers had substantially complied with what the law requires. Had this measure been in place, the measure never would have gotten to voters.

The legislation also contains one very usual - and retroactive - measure aimed at Attorney General Tom Horne.

Under current law, any allegations the secretary of state has about campaign finance violations go to the Attorney General's Office.

Last year, though, when Secretary of State Ken Bennett had allegations involving Horne, he asked Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery to investigate. But a judge ruled earlier this year that procedure was illegal, directing Bennett to send the case to Horne.

The judge said he presumes that Horne will forward the case to another county attorney. But lawmakers said that still gives Horne the option of choosing who will investigate him.

The law now says Bennett can send the case to the local county attorney automatically if the target of the investigation is the attorney general.

And to make sure it applies to the ongoing inquiry, the provision is retroactive to last July 31.

Horne is accused of illegally coordinating his 2010 campaign with what was billed as an independent committee being headed by Kathleen Winn.

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