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Arizona Senator Kirsten Engel: Don’t legislate conspiracy theories, pass federal voting rights act
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Arizona Senator Kirsten Engel: Don’t legislate conspiracy theories, pass federal voting rights act

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

As I stood with other legislators at a recent press conference on voting rights, a group of protesters called us “liars” and “traitors,” while claiming they had evidence the 2020 election was stolen. We were there to defend the integrity of Arizona’s elections against the state Senate Republicans’ shocking endorsement of conspiracy theories.

Arizona Senate Republicans are encouraging and wielding conspiracy theories in a dangerous one-two punch. First, they are undermining confidence in the accuracy of the audited and verified 2020 election by announcing an after-the-fact unverifiable “audit” of Maricopa County ballots. To defend free and fair elections in Arizona against these attacks, we need Congress to pass the “For the People Act,” or HR 1.

Arizona Senate President Karen Fann has said she wants volunteers to recount by hand Maricopa’s 2.1 million voted ballots. This reckless plan could place the security of the election at risk. Ask yourself: Are you OK with volunteers lacking credentials and rigorous oversight handling your voted ballot? It’s hard not to imagine the misguided conspiracy theorists haranguing our press conference jumping at the chance to volunteer for this hand count. Will such an effort enhance or only further erode the perceived fairness of the 2020 election?

Gov. Doug Ducey certified the vote totals that gave Arizona’s 11 electoral votes to President Biden after Maricopa County’s voting machines and vote totals were determined to be 100% accurate after several audits, not to mention the dismissal of a dozen Republican lawsuits for failure to unearth a single kernel of fraud. This recount “audit” is unnecessary and wastes taxpayer money.

As Arizona’s electorate turns more deeply purple every day, Republicans hold a precarious majority in both legislative chambers and are determined to grasp onto it by rolling back voting rights. Arizona Senate Republicans are pushing the most voter-suppression legislation in the country. While an extreme bill to authorize the Legislature to choose the state’s electors appears dead, others are sailing through, despite unanimous opposition by the Democratic caucus in both chambers.

On the chopping block is Arizona’s version of Trump’s favorite excuse for losing the election: mail-in voting. Never mind that 80% of Arizonans now use this secure and convenient method of voting that started here three decades ago.

Another Republican bill takes the “permanent” out of Arizona’s Permanent Early Voting List and purges infrequent voters (disproportionately low-income and persons of color) off the PEVL. Another bill requires voters to include printed copies of unnecessary and sensitive personal documents with their ballots and still another requires voters to notarize their ballot.

A different bill would slash the early voting time period by five days and toss ballots postmarked later than five days before an election, a problem for Native American voters living on reservation lands that lack home mail delivery service.

Unless vetoed by Ducey, who’s already said he may sign these anti-voter bills, these bills will enshrine conspiracy theories into law.

These alarming attacks on Democracy are why we need Congress to stop Arizona and other states from undermining election integrity by passing the For the People Act. The For the People Act will establish minimum standards for mail-in voting, provide for automatic and same-day voter registration, and prevent states from purging eligible voters from the voting.

It will make Election Day a federal holiday, provide additional protections for military, overseas and disabled voters and shine a light on dark money spending in our elections.

Voting is at the core of American democracy and we should be fighting to protect it, not attack it. It’s time we expand access to democracy and remove hurdles Republicans have placed in front of voters by passing the For the People Act before it’s too late.

Kirsten Engel is an Arizona state senator representing Tucson and a candidate to represent Arizona’s Congressional District 2.


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