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House Republicans Approve Bill To Purge Arizona's Early Voting List

After hours of contentious debate, Arizona House Republicans approved a bill that would purge voters from the state’s popular mail-ballot system.

Senate Bill 1485 would end the permanent aspect of the Permanent Early Voting List, the roster of voters who’ve elected to receive a ballot by mail weeks before Election Day. The Republican-approved measure would remove voters from the list if they don’t use that early ballot to vote for two consecutive two-year election cycles.

The bill had stalled for over a month in the House after narrowly clearing the Senate in March. 

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, held a fiery press conference on Monday where she lashed out at the bill’s critics, but also promised changes to the bill to make it more palatable. A day later, before approving the bill on a 31-29 party line vote, Republicans adopted amendments to SB 1485 to give voters who fail to vote often enough more time to respond to confirm to election officials that they want to remain on the early voting list.

Republicans also added municipal elections to a list of votes that would qualify as participating in an election using an early ballot, and rebranded the list to be called the “Active Early Voting List." GOP lawmakers said keeping the list exclusive to active voters was essential to ensuring the integrity of future elections.

Democrats noted there’s no evidence of fraud involving early ballots, and criticized the measure as an attempt to make it harder to vote. Rep. Reginald Bolding, the House minority leader, said the bill is part of a broader Republican response to record-setting voter turnout in 2020.

“As community leaders and elected officials, we said go out in vote, and you did. In fact, you came out in record numbers in 2020. Thank you,” Bolding said. “And because you did, your reward has been an unprecedented effort across this country and here in this state to make it harder for you again next election.” 

Republicans repeatedly bristled at accusations that the bill was intended, or would at least have the unintended consequence, of making it harder for low income communities and people of color to vote.

Throughout the debate, they halted testimony from Democrats, accusing the minority party of impugning Republicans with racist motivations.

“This bill is essentially about security. The security of the vote,” said Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills. “I’ve moved several times. I have never contacted my recorder to say, ‘Hey, I moved, take me off the list.’ People forget to do that. So you’ve got all these ballots that are being sent to people who’ve moved. And I can say for certainty that nobody who ever died notified the recorder that they were dead.”

“Ballots are going to addresses where they’re not there, and there can be hanky panky so to speak with those ballots,” he added.

Without evidence of any such fraud, Rep. Randy Friese (D-Tucson) said he believes that Republicans do have ulterior motives.

“I find the effect of this bill is to, one, find reasons to throw unsuspecting voters off of the Permanent Early Voting List; two, put a finger on the scales to favor the Republican Trump voter; and three, to achieve a competitive advantage over Democrats,” Friese said.

Ben Giles is a senior editor at KJZZ.