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Arizona came up with a bipartisan fix for its election calendar. Here's what's changing

Arizona lawmakers came together in rare bipartisan fashion last week to fix what could have been a major problem in our state’s election timeline.

The big solution? To move the state’s primary election up by a week to July 30, among other changes.

Jen Fifield of Votebeat covered it all and joined The Show to explain what happened — and what it means for voters. 

LAUREN GILGER: Good morning to you, Jen.

JEN FIFIELD: Good morning. Good to talk to you.

GILGER: Thanks for coming on. OK. So this had to happen to make sure basically that Arizona's votes were counted in the upcoming election and it had to happen like right when it happened by last Thursday or the counties would have run out of time, essentially. It sounds like lawmakers really came down to the wire on this, Jen.

FIFIELD: Oh, they absolutely did. It was making everybody sweat. There are a few points in the week that I don't think people thought they would get this compromise. As you know, the Republican-controlled Legislature hasn't been able to get anything by Governor Hobbs related to elections. So it was really last minute negotiations. 

GILGER: Yeah, OK. And we'll talk more about what those negotiations look like in just a moment. But give us first the, the fixes, they're moving the primary up by a week. What else did they come to an agreement on to fix this problem?

FIFIELD: Yes, we will have a July primary for the first time. July 30. That's only temporary for this year. That's something voters should know. Voters should also know that the signature on their mail in ballot and the phone number on their mail in ballot are super important in this year in the next few years as they change and make some changes to how mail in ballots are processed.

GILGER: OK. So remind us why this election calendar needed fixing really quickly. Like this could have been really bad if lawmakers hadn't done something last week.

FIFIELD: Right. Well, because of a new recount law that we passed in 2022 we're going to have a recount in Maricopa County at least after every election which squishes the time frame for people for election workers to get all that work done before the general election. So they, they don't have any time to prove ballots. They just didn't have time military and overseas ballots were going to be late if they didn't fix this and get the compress the schedule by 17 to 19 days. We weren't going to be able to send our presidential lectures to Congress on time because of this long recount process that took three weeks in 2020.

GILGER: Yeah, it takes a long time. OK. So, leading up to the deadline before them last week, it really seemed like our democratic governor and the Republicans in the ledge were not agreeing here on what the fixes should be. How did they come together on this? Like, it seems like you from your reporting, there were midnight negotiations, very angry lawmakers.

FIFIELD: It was tense, it was very tense. It was actually very comforting for me to see them working together though, even though they weren't having a good time of it. Because, you know, for so long, it has been unwillingness to even talk about where they're, you know, where they draw a line on certain issues and that really amplified that this week. So now we know, for example, we're going to have better standards for verifying our signatures on our ballot and this is in law. Now, this is something that Katie Hobbs vetoed last year and in the Legislature and she was willing to compromise based on it looks like adding a few more lines into the language to clarify what, what it is actually going to do. So that's one example of the temporary nature of the fix for 2024 is another one making another fix temporary. There were, there were lots of those small tweaks at the end.

GILGER: So the fact that a lot of these changes are temporary, what does that mean down the road, like are we going to have to come to these negotiations again next time around?

FIFIELD: We are. In fact, the County Association Executive Director Jen Marson told me there is going to be more work to do in 2026 or they're at least going to be pushing again, the county officials for a long term fix because we have the primary settled for this year. We have the presidential election settled for this year. But then again, in 2028 we're going to have another presidential election where the timeline is going to be back to having to have this long term solution.

GILGER: OK. So it sounds like a lot of the debate between lawmakers, a lot of the negotiations centered around the curing period. Tell us what changed there and what that means.

FIFIELD: Oh, you want to go in the weeds, huh? Let's go there. So you have five calendar days to, if there's a problem with the signature on your ballot, they're not sure if it's yours or not, they're gonna call or text or send you a letter even if they don't have your phone number. That's why that phone number is so important on your ballot. You have five days to get back to them. This used to be business days ending on like a Tuesday and now it's going to be calendar days, ending on the weekend most likely. And so that was a big negotiation. They did add in a few things that made people more comfort, Democrats more comfortable so it won't hurt voters as much. And one of those is that temporary thing where this ends after 2026. 

GILGER: And it sounds like something to go. Some of the concerns from democrats were about, about tribal voters, right.

FIFIELD: Right. Gabriella Cazares-Kelly in Pima County said that she was really concerned about her rural and tribal voters. It takes mail a long time to get there. Say they don't have their phone number. They might not have wi-fi or access to public, public transportation on those last crucial days on the weekend.

GILGER: OK. So how are the counties reacting to this? They're the ones who have been sort of sounding the alarm about this for quite some time now? Are they relieved?

FIFIELD: Absolutely. I mean, this is something that they, they want to be able to do their job and do it well and they want to not make mistakes as well, having that really tight timeline where they didn't have, they would be, you know, working midnight, they might not even be able to do it. That was really stressing them out.

GILGER: All right. So final question for you then, Jen, is about the context here, like all of this comes amidst a much bigger debate going on here and around the country about voting, about elections, about election denialism, attempts to change election law on one side, worries about protecting disenfranchised, disenfranchised voters on the other side. Give us a sense of how all of that kind of tension played into this debate. 

FIFIELD: Well, you had Republicans see an opening for the first time in a few years to really push through some changes such as that signature verification standards they wanted in there and a few other things they saw this as their chance to negotiate. I think that's what really, really caught it up in the last week where they were trying to put things and, and the Democrats were trying to make sure that they didn't put something in this bill that they've been trying to prevent for years just because the Democrats wanted this to happen.

GILGER: All right, we'll leave it there. That is Jen Fifield joining us from VoteBeat. She covered it all. Jen, thanks for coming on. I appreciate it.

FIFIELD: Thank you. Have a good morning.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.