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Arizona Democrats decry 'rushed' bill to address elections calendar issue

Democratic lawmakers say Republicans are not acting in good faith to address warnings of missed deadlines in the upcoming election. 

A 2022 law is widely expected to trigger more automatic recounts of close races, which in turn could cause election officials to miss key administrative deadlines, like mailing ballots to overseas military members and certifying the state’s presidential vote. 

Republicans are pushing a bill through the Legislature to address this problem, but it includes elements that Democrats say are unrelated or unnecessary, like alterations to the time voters are allowed to “cure” their early ballots and language codifying strict signature verification requirements in state law.

“This bill has been rushed through this hearing. We were not able to hear all of the speakers who signed in — their opposition. Raises the question as to whether the outcome here was predetermined,” Sen. Priya Sundareshan (D-Tucson) said at the bill’s first committee hearing on Tuesday.

Sundareshan also claimed lawmakers had reached a bipartisan deal to address the election deadlines issue weeks ago — but that deal, she said, fell through. 

Rep. Alexander Kolodin (R-Scottsdale), the sponsor of the GOP bill that cleared a committee hearing Tuesday, said he doesn’t know what Sundareshan is referring to. 

“She certainly never spoke to me about it,” he said in a text. “Which you kinda think she would, right, if it was a serious effort.”

Kolodin’s bill would permanently move up the date of primary elections from August to May starting in 2026, change the “cure” period for voters to correct errors in their ballots from five business days to five calendar days, require district high schools to provide election spaces, and codify strict signature verification requirements.

“My reason for insisting so strongly on this inclusion of the signature verification piece, is that as you’re compressing the timelines it’s going to create an inevitable human incentive to rush,” Kolodin said.

Hobbs vetoed a bill sponsored by Kolodin last year that would have mandated similar signature verification requirements. Kolodin has said he’s open to amendments on the bill, but not on the signature verification issue in particular.

In order to pass and take effect in time to alter the upcoming election season, the bill must get the support of at least some legislative Democrats and Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs. 

Arizona Association of Counties Executive Director Jen Marson said that the extra language is not necessary to fix the recount issue, but if it’s necessary to get the overall problem fixed, the counties will support it.

“We would love a solution that just gets us the number of days, but we live in a political reality,” Marson said.

Democrats were frustrated with how Republicans ran the bill hearing, limiting speech in opposition to the bill.

Sundareshan tried to ask whether inserting the signature verification requirements is designed to have an impact on the outcome of an ongoing lawsuit against the secretary of state regarding Arizona’s Elections Procedures Manual, but she was cut off. 

The number of speakers was also limited. Ben Scheel, executive director with Opportunity Arizona, was kicked out of the hearing room for trying to speak against the bill, which three people spoke in favor of and one was allowed to speak against.

Some county recorders spoke for the bill in the hearing, but Rep. Betty Villegas (R-Tucson) was not permitted to read a statement against the bill from Pima County Recorder Gabriella Cázares-Kelly until almost every lawmaker had already voted.

“I guess my recorder doesn’t have a voice,” Villegas said.

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Camryn Sanchez is a field correspondent at KJZZ covering everything to do with state politics.