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Arizona lawmaker considering end run on voting-law referendum

Arizona lawmaker considering end run on voting-law referendum

PHOENIX — State lawmakers are moving to repeal major changes in voting laws made last year — and then re-enacting at least some of them in a way to thwart a referendum drive.

The proposal by Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, comes after foes of those changes gathered enough signatures to put the measure on hold until voters have a final say in November.

HB 2196 would repeal the law, making the November vote unnecessary.

But Farnsworth said he still believes some of the provisions of last year’s law are necessary, notably one that allows counties to remove people from the permanent early-voter lists. So he wants to re-enact that.

And he acknowledged that other legislators may have pieces of that law they want to readopt.

Re-enacting all or part of the law would force foes to launch an entirely new referendum drive.

“We think that it’s a cynical attempt to try to get around our referendum,” said Robbie Sherwood, spokesman for the coalition that forced last year’s bill to a public vote. “We won’t take that lying down.”

The original measure, pushed through the Republican-controlled Legislature in the last hours of the session, would:

  • Sharply boost signature requirements for minor parties to get their legislative and congressional candidates on the ballot.
  • Limit who can take someone’s early ballot to a polling place.
  • Impose stricter requirements on citizen groups sponsoring initiatives.
  • Set up procedures to stop sending early ballots to voters who have not used them.

A coalition of organizations gathered 146,000 signatures  to force a public vote. The Secretary of State’s Office found about 111,000 of them valid, far more than the 86,405 needed.

Farnsworth’s repeal measure would make that effort moot. But he said he wants to try again to make the “permanent early voting list” a little less permanent.

Those who sign up  are automatically mailed ballots before every election. Voters can mark them and mail them back or take them to a polling place.

Farnsworth said he believes that list is clogged with people who aren’t interested in voting early, may have moved or are dead, costing taxpayers money to mail out ballots, as well as costing candidates to send their campaign materials.

That’s only partly true.

The change Farnsworth wants re-enacted would allow removal of people from the early-voting list if they have not used their early ballots for two election cycles, choosing to vote in person instead, and then did not respond to a postcard from the secretary of state. Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne said there are separate procedures to “scrub” the voting rolls of people who have not voted at all, perhaps because they moved or died.

Farnsworth said he cannot guarantee other legislators won’t use repeal of the law and voiding of the referendum drive as a chance to enact it again.

Sherwood said,

 “We think the voters have earned the right to vote on this bill. We don’t think the Legislature should be messing with it in this session.”

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