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Arizona lawmaker wants to require notarized signatures on mail-in ballots
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Arizona lawmaker wants to require notarized signatures on mail-in ballots

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State Rep. Kevin Payne, a Peoria lawyer, has proposed a bill that would require mail-in ballots to be notarized.

PHOENIX — A plan by a Peoria lawmaker to curb what he says is an opportunity for election fraud could end up throwing roadblocks in the paths of some who want to vote.

Republican Rep. Kevin Payne said something needs to be done to ensure that ballots returned by mail were cast by the individuals to whom they were originally addressed. He said the current system, in which election workers try to match signatures on ballot envelopes with what’s on file, is far from foolproof.

His proposed solution: notaries.

Payne’s House Bill 2369 would require attestation by a notary that the person whose name is on the envelope was in fact the person who signed it. No notarization? No vote.

Payne conceded that some people don’t have easy access to a notary. He said those likely include some residents of the Sun City retirement community in his legislative district, who may be too infirm to go out and find a notary who can attest to their signature.

But Payne told Capitol Media Services he is undeterred.

By law, anyone with an early ballot already has to sign the envelope. It is that signature that election workers review to see if it appears to match other signatures already on file.

Payne said he was besieged by emails before the Nov. 3 election — he estimated they were coming in at one point at five per minute — of people questioning whether all early ballots came from real voters.

Much of that doubt likely was fueled by claims of Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, that mail-in voting was subject to massive fraud.

Also, Fox News reported that someone apparently applied for and cast an early ballot for a man who used to live in Arizona but had since moved to Tennessee. Nashion Garrett told Laura Ingraham it appeared a mail-in ballot was sent to his old address, “but I haven’t lived in Arizona in over a year.”

Payne said there’s no danger of that happening if a notary has to verify that the legally required signature on early ballot envelopes matches the person whose name is on there.

Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said she’s not buying it.

Hobbs said a check of voter registration records does reveal a Nashion Garrett. But she said he was placed on the “inactive voter” list after he didn’t vote in several prior elections and mail to his residence was returned.

She was similarly unimpressed by various other claims of fraud, none proven in court. “We cannot legislate based on misinformation that came out of this election,” she said.

Hobbs said the current system of matching signatures works.

“That doesn’t mean that one person might not slip through the cracks,” she said. “But we don’t need to burden every single voter in our state because one person might have slipped through the cracks.”

The coronavirus pandemic has forced many to turn to mail-in voting. With laws differing from state-to-state, the process can often be confusing. A look at the laws of different states on mail-in voting and what the impact mail-in voting will have on the election.

Early voting is very popular in Arizona, at least in part because of its ease and simplicity. During the last presidential race more than 88% of the ballots were early ballots.

Voters can request an early ballot before each election. Or they can choose to be on a “permanent early voting list” where they are guaranteed to get a ballot in the mail ahead of each election.

The safeguard is supposed to be the signature comparison done by county election workers. Payne said he’s not convinced that’s working.

“They’re not trained like a forensic scientist would be, or a handwriting analyst who sits down and looks at the loop on the L and the cross on the T, the close on the O or the close on the P,” he said.

Beyond that, Payne said doing the envelope-by-envelope checks is time consuming. A notarized signature, he said, would eliminate the need.

That leaves the question of whether his proposal would create a new burden on voters. “That’s certainly not my intention,” Payne said.

Hobbs, however, said that would be the result. “Not everybody has access to a notary,” she said, so they would need to make a trip to a bank or post office or somewhere a notary might be present.

One option, Payne suggested, might be to provide incentives for notaries to go to the homes and apartments of voters who need signature verification.

Hobbs said that still leaves another hurdle — notaries charge fees. She said that would create what amounts to a “poll tax,” in which people have to pay to exercise their right to vote.

Payne said that aspect could be avoided if the state picked up the tab, but that would require an unknown amount of tax dollars to administer. He said he remains open to suggestions.

If his proposal is approved, Arizona would become one of just a handful of states to impose a notary requirement on early ballots.

The strictest laws, according to the National Notary Association, are in Mississippi. Other states with requirements for a notary or someone else to witness a signature include Alaska, Alabama, Maine, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

Payne’s legislation also contains another provision that could make it harder for some people to cast early ballots.

Under a 2016 Arizona law — one now awaiting U.S. Supreme Court review — it is illegal to take someone else’s voted ballot to a polling place. But an exception is provided for a family member or someone in the same household to drop off the ballot.

HB 2269 would remove both of those exemptions, leaving only a formal caregiver at someone’s home, nursing care institution, assisted living center or similar facility as being the one who could handle that person’s ballot.

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