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Effort to strip early-voting ease from many stalls in Arizona Senate
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Effort to strip early-voting ease from many stalls in Arizona Senate

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Sen. Kelly Townsend explains Thursday why she won't support legislation proposed by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, behind her, to impose new limits on the Arizonans' ability to stay on the permanent early voting list.

PHOENIX — Efforts to strip early voting ease from potentially hundreds of thousands of Arizonans stalled Thursday amid a spat between two Senate Republicans.

Kelly Townsend of Mesa had supported Senate Bill 1485 when it was approved on a party-line vote in committee. But Townsend said she could not provide the required 16th vote in the 30-member Senate because she does not think the bill goes far enough.

Townsend, who has called results of the 2020 election “tainted,’’ said she wants more fixes, including ones she proposed but that never got to the Senate floor.

That refusal resulted in Michelle Ugenti-Rita of Scottsdale, sponsor of the bill, saying Townsend was throwing a “temper tantrum.’’

But Townsend said she’s not trying to kill the proposal.

She said she wants lawmakers to keep SB 1485 on ice until completion of an audit of the results of the 2020 general-election returns from Maricopa County. Those results will tell lawmakers what needs to be fixed in election laws, she said.

That review, including a hand count of all 2.1 million ballots, began Thursday after county election officials delivered the ballots and the counting machines to Veterans Memorial Coliseum as demanded by a Senate subpoena.

The results are not expected to be completed much before the end of May, and the legislative session could be done by then if lawmakers can approve a state budget.

Townsend said she doesn’t care if that means lawmakers have to remain at the Capitol. She said lawmakers can’t wait until next year to make any fixes, as any changes likely could not take effect before the August 2022 primary.

What the changes would do

Under current law, once someone signs up for the permanent early voting list they continue to get ballots by mail every election until they are no longer registered to vote.

SB 1485 sought to remove people from the list who had not used their early ballots in at least one of the two prior election cycles.

They would remain registered to vote. But they would have to go to the polls in person or request to be put back on the list.

Democrats said that harms people who may have little interest in voting until they find a candidate or issue of concern. They provided figures showing that if this measure had been in effect in 2020, more than 200,000 people would not have received an early ballot based on failure to use it in 2016 or 2018.

Foes of the bill said an analysis of who would be affected suggests political motives, as they claim it would reduce voting by minorities who are more likely to back Democrats.

The measure already had been approved once by the Senate but required a final vote to ratify changes made in the House. Then Townsend balked.

“I know that the senator is upset that some of her bills died in committee,’’ Ugenti-Rita said. “It’s disappointing to be on the receiving end of someone’s temper tantrum.’’

“You want to see a temper tantrum?”

Townsend bristled at that description. But she conceded there is some truth behind what Ugenti-Rita said.

“Absolutely I am upset about all of my election bills dead, absolutely,’’ she said. “You want to see a temper tantrum? I can show you one if you really want.’’

Townsend already has identified what she believes are problems with election laws.

For example, she said more than 11% of ballots cast in Maricopa County had to be “adjudicated.’’ That means humans had to examine the ballot, whether due to stray marks or votes for more than one candidate in a race, to determine the voter’s true intent.

By contrast, Townsend said, the adjudication figure elsewhere in Arizona is less than 2%. “We need to know why,’’ she said.

She had her own proposals. One said people could get early ballots in the mail but they had to return them in person. She also wanted the state auditor general to review all the voting equipment annually in at least the two largest counties.

Neither got a hearing.

A bill to require all election equipment to be made in the United States and to prohibit results from being transmitted to a foreign country did get out of the Senate but died in the House.

Election department employees process and verify ballots from the 2020 General Election at the Pima County Election Center in Tucson on Nov. 2, 2020. (Josh Galemore / Arizona Daily Star)

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