PHOENIX — Republican senators in the legislative majority are moving on two paths to erect hurdles for Arizonans who want to vote early.
On a party-line vote Monday, with Democrats opposed, GOP senators decided to scrap existing laws that determine the validity of early ballots based on county election workers matching voters’ signatures on the ballot envelopes with their signatures on file.
Instead, early voters would need to provide an affidavit with their date of birth and number of a state driver’s license, identification card or tribal enrollment card.
If they don’t have such identification, they would have to send a copy of any other federal, state or locally issued ID card.
And if they don’t have that?
The proposal by Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, would first require someone to provide their voter registration number.
“Raise your hand if you know your voter registration number,” said Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Tempe, opposing the plan.
That wouldn’t be enough.
Then they would have to enclose a physical copy of something showing their address, such as a utility bill, vehicle registration form, property tax statement or a bank statement dated within the past 90 days.
Monday’s vote to advance Senate Bill 1713 to the House for consideration is just part of the GOP effort to make it more difficult to cast an early ballot.
Waiting in the wings for Senate debate is a proposal by Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, already approved by the Appropriations Committee, that would give early voters less time to make a decision.
First, it would chop five days off the front end before early ballots have to be mailed out. Under his legislation, ballots could not be mailed out more than 22 days ahead of an election, down from 27 days. Even if people had previously requested an early ballot, it might not be sent out until 19 days before the election; current law mandates they go out at least 24 days before.
That is only half of Gowan’s proposal.
Right now any ballot delivered by the post office by 7 p.m. on Election Day gets counted.
Gowan’s Senate Bill 1593, however, says any ballot not postmarked by the prior Thursday would be discarded — even if it shows up before close of business on Election Day.
Nothing in Gowan’s bill would preclude a voter from taking their early ballot to a polling place on Election Day, turning it in, and instead getting a regular ballot.
The two measures are part of a sustained effort by Republicans to change the rules following the 2020 presidential election that Democrat Biden won over Donald Trump in Arizona, a result some have refused to accept as valid.
Proponents of the bills say all they’re trying to do is ensure election integrity.
That’s why the Senate, also on a party-line vote on Monday, gave $1 million to Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich he can use to investigate election fraud.
Several Senate Democrats, however, said they see something nefarious in the motives.
They said the measures, taken together and separately, have a disparate effect on the ability of minorities to vote, as they may not have a driver’s license and the same access to copy machines and printers to make copies of required documents.
“These are voter suppression bills,” said Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson.
That brought an angry reaction from Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who said that amounts to saying Republicans are racists.
She said the new forms of ID don’t disenfranchise anyone, and that nothing in the legislation is crafted to apply solely to one group.
But Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said that misstates the situation — and federal law. She pointed out that courts have voided other such laws if they have a disproportionate impact on minorities.
Gonzales said the reason for the measures is that Republicans fear the fact that by 2030, Hispanics will be the majority in Arizona.
Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, agreed, saying, “Sometimes the truth hurts.”
But Mesnard, who proposed changing the requirements for mail-in voting, said he sees nothing wrong with providing extra security to ensure that the votes received come from the people who were supposed to get the ballots.
Still, Mesnard said he will make some changes when the bill now goes to the House, to ease some of those requirements.
Gowan, meanwhile, said his bill to on early balloting is designed to help out county recorders.
He said having early ballots show up at the last minute by mail means recorders are busy processing those when they should be dealing with the polling places on Election Day “so we can have an election that is counted soon instead of weeks like we’ve been seeing.”
Bowie, the Tempe Democrat, said that doesn’t answer the other half of the question: Why delay having those ballots going out to voters in the first place?
Gowan defended the idea, saying it should still give people enough time to make a decision, even with the new earlier deadline to drop it in the mail.
“I presume most people are going to make that decision in two weeks,” he said. “I’m sure that people would prepare themselves in anticipation of that early ballot coming.”
Sen. Ruben Navarrete, D-Phoenix, was unconvinced. “It really hurts too many Arizonans who are relying on this system,” he said.