In the days after the 2012 general election, Arizona made national headlines for all the wrong reasons. A large number of provisional and early ballots remained uncounted from election night, and the multi- week process of counting these ballots provided the national media fodder to continue the theme of dysfunction in Arizona government.
With several high-profile races that were too close to call with hundreds of thousands of outstanding ballots, the calls for election reform started to come from Democrats, Republicans and independents.
Unfortunately, some Republicans have used the well-intentioned calls for reform to push through legislation that would be harmful to the enterprise of voting in Arizona.
A thorough analysis of the causes and effects of the extended tabulation period could help us to understand and correct the problems with our election system in a bipartisan and transparent fashion.
Instead, a handful of Republicans have embarked on a cavalier reform agenda without seeking input from the communities that would be most affected by the legislation or without seeking bipartisan support. The chief proponent of these bills is Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, who is currently positioning herself for a run to be the top election official in the state.
Sen. Reagan authored SB1003, which will make the act of collecting a neighbor’s early ballot a class 5 felony. Once a voter has signed and sealed their ballot, they should be afforded every opportunity to return it to county election officials before the polls close.
Sen. Reagan has yet to provide a good explanation for the need of this legislation, or why someone who assists a voter in returning their ballot should be charged with a serious criminal offense. Tens of thousands of coworkers, community organizers, and neighbors should be commended for partaking in the democratic process, not prosecuted.
Furthermore, this bill will do nothing to solve the problems of the 2012 election, and it will possibly make the problem much worse. Many voters who receive an early ballot in the mail do not complete the ballot immediately. Often they will wait until the end of the election to mail in their ballot or return it to their polling place. When neighbors and community organizers canvass early voters to collect ballots, they are not only assisting the voter; they are often expediting the return of that ballot. If obstacles are placed between these voters and the return of their early ballots, it is logical to assume that many voters will turn in their ballots at the last minute, thus increasing the number of ballots that remain uncounted on election night.
SB1003 is only one of several misguided election bills working their way through the Legislature. Unfortunately, none of the proposed bills will likely help to alleviate the problems of the 2012 election, and they could have a drastic impact on the ease and availability of voting in Arizona. The legislation seems to correspond to an uptick in legislation proposed by Republicans across the country that makes voting more difficult. In many cases the Department of Justice has intervened to stop harmful legislation from going into effect, and Arizona is likely headed in that direction yet again.
The real tragedy of these election bills is the lost opportunity for real reform. In the weeks after the 2012 election, there was bipartisan agreement in the need to analyze our election system for possible reforms. Democrats have been ready and willing to have a meaningful discussion about ways to both make voting easier and to give our election officials the resources they need to count the votes in a quick and transparent fashion. Republicans have not reached out in a meaningful way to find areas of commonality.
There is a path forward on election reform, and we can protect the institution of voting while conducting our elections in an efficient manner. To do so, we must work together in a bipartisan and transparent way, and we must always work in the spirit of making voting easier and more accessible. The election reform bills sponsored by Sen. Reagan and other Republicans fail on both counts.
— DJ Quinlan is interim executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party.