PHOENIX — The state House voted Monday to create new crimes for certain voter-registration activities in a move several lawmakers suggested will suppress voting, particularly by the young and minorities.
House Bill 2616 would make it a misdemeanor to pay someone based on the number of people they sign up to vote. Violators would be subject to six months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
The measure now goes to the Senate.
Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said it is designed to deal with problems presented to her by some county recorders who say they are finding large numbers of fraudulent registrations.
“We have people going in the phone book and filling out voter registrations with names in the phone book,” she said. “We’ve got people who are making up names.”
But the part of the measure that caused more concern would require that filled-out voter registration forms be sent in within 10 days or there is a potential four-month jail term.
Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said that she, as a candidate, always carries such forms when going door-to-door in case she comes across someone who wants to register. Engel said she would send them in when she had a small pile.
“All of a sudden now, you don’t send them in within 10 days, you’re subject to a criminal infraction,” she said.
Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, said all that will chill efforts, often by volunteers, to get people signed up.
He noted this is not the only House-passed measure aimed at voting, citing another bill that would require people who drop off their early ballots at voting centers to provide identification. Foes of that measure say some people don’t have the kind of ID the legislation would require.
“It’s clear to me that the real driving force behind these bills is to keep down the number of votes, especially from those who are young, those who are old, those who are poor and those who are minority voters,” Bolding said.
That drew an objection from Townsend, who said House rules prohibit members from commenting on what they believe are each other’s motives. Bolding refused to back down, suggesting there are lawmakers who want to keep turnout low, especially among some groups.
“What we know is that when more people go to the ballot, when we see more individuals voting, you’ll see effects just like you saw in 2018,” with less support for certain types of politicians, he said.
“Republicans know, just like Democrats know, that the more people who vote the less likely we will see an extreme Legislature that is forcing policies that don’t reflect the state of Arizona,” Bolding said.
He suggested that last year’s election, where Democrats picked up four seats in the Arizona House — reducing the GOP edge to 31-29 — has worried some on the other side of the aisle.
“I do not think it’s a mistake that we consistently see voter-suppression bills this cycle,” Bolding said.
Townsend, however, argued that her legislation would actually help enfranchise voters.
“I cannot believe that we are arguing that we should be able to look the other way when someone commits fraud, when someone purposely keeps back voter registration, for whatever reason, in a nefarious way,” she said.
Townsend said this is designed to protect those who thought they had registered “and instead their registration form is sitting on someone’s desk for some purpose I don’t understand, sometimes until after the election.”
But Bolding said if Republicans were truly interested in ensuring that everyone who wants to vote gets to vote, they would support automatic voter registration. That system, in effect in some states, signs people up to vote when they get a driver’s license and provide proof of citizenship.
While all the Republicans voted in favor of the measure, Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, said she was uncomfortable with at least some of the language, particularly in how the 10-day limit is applied. She said there could be circumstances where a volunteer turns in a slip in plenty of time to an organization, but that group fails to get the form off within 10 days of when it originally was filled out.