PHOENIX — In the wake of protests over the election results in Arizona, Republicans on a state Senate panel approved two changes in election laws Thursday that would audit more votes and require automatic recounts in more situations.
“There are hundreds of thousands of people ... that think the election was fraudulent or full of irregularities or breakdowns in process,” said Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler. Changing the laws on recounts and audits, he said, would increase voter confidence.
But Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, said the legislation approved on party-line votes by the Government Committee is built on the flawed assumption that more counting will change minds.
“There will always be people that are never going to accept election results because they just don’t agree with their perception of reality,” he said. “I could probably recommend a psychologist or something.”
Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, said the problem is even more basic than that.
“The reason that there’s doubts out there about our elections right now is because of uncorroborated claims, misinformation and flat-out lies that have been told over and over again about this past election, from the president’s office all the way down to this very body,” he said.
The result, Quezada said, is what happened in Washington on Jan. 6 when rioters denying Joe Biden’s win invaded the nation’s Capitol.
Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Peach Springs, expressed a similar sentiment.
"How long are we going to allow our legislators from our state to go down this rabbit hole, appeasing the squeaky wheels,'' she said. "We need to stop, stop this kind of appeasement of people that can't face reality and facts.''
That brought a sharp retort from Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who has been one of the Arizona lawmakers arguing that the reported results of the presidential election here were inaccurate.
“I do not want my speech curtailed,” she said. “If I have something that I want to offer, that unless it’s somehow injurious I don’t want another member (of the Legislature) telling me what I can and cannot say.”
Mesnard suggested Democrats’ opposition has a political component.
“I am a little dismayed at the seeming dismissiveness that I sense from people who have no problem with the outcome of the election or don’t have any doubts but don’t care that others do,” he said.
Mesnard is the sponsor of Senate Bill 1010, which would increase to 5% the number of precincts where there has to be a random hand count of votes following each election. The current figure is 2%.
He also wants to allow anyone who has the money to demand a full recount of the votes in any race.
He conceded that the only people who would likely take advantage of that are those who are on the losing side. But that does not make it a bad idea, Mesnard said.
Mendez doesn’t see it that way.
“Allowing rich people to demand a recount simply because they can afford it will never restore confidence in our elections,” he said.
The same panel gave the go-ahead to SB 1083, which would alter the law on when there has to be an automatic recount.
In most cases, that occurs when the margin of difference between the top two candidates is no more than 0.1% or 200 votes, whichever is less. Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, wants to move that number up to 0.5%.
That change is significant.
Biden won Arizona and its 11 electoral votes by 10,457 votes over now-former President Donald Trump, a margin of 0.3%. Had this measure been in effect last year, it would have required a recount of the more than 3.3 million ballots cast.
Biden was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Arizona since 1996.
The timing did not escape Quezada.
“The problem is we’re bringing it forward in response to, again, people’s mistrust of these election results and lack of confidence in these election results that are based on complete lies,” Quezada said.
Ugenti-Rita said this has nothing to do with the most recent election.
“I have to dispel this idea that things were fine prior to 2020,” she said.
Separately, the same committee endorsed setting up a procedure to drop people off the state’s “permanent early voting list.”
Current law allows anyone to sign up to get mailed an early ballot ahead of each election. A voter remains on that list unless they are placed on an “inactive” list for failing to vote at all for several election cycles or if the mailed notice to voters is returned as undeliverable.
SB 1069 would remove individuals from the list if they did not use an early ballot in two consecutive primary and general elections. Ugenti-Rita said it’s just a matter of keeping the list as current as possible.
The measure drew criticism from various voting rights groups, which argued this would throw an additional hurdle in the paths of people who want to cast a ballot. They said the state should not penalize a decision by a voter to not cast an early ballot and instead decide to go to the polls for several races.
Quezada said there’s something else. “A non-vote is also a vote,” he said, saying that people may look at races and conclude they don’t want to choose between “the lesser of two evils.”
What happened in 2020, Quezada said, is people found someone to support. He said they might have lost that opportunity had this measure been in place last year.
But Ugenti-Rita said the change would not affect the right of someone to vote. She said those removed from the list could still go to the polls and cast a ballot in person and still could reapply to get early ballots in the mail.
All the measures go to the full Senate following a review by the Rules Committee of constitutional issues.