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Senate leaders move to revive election bills

In Maricopa County precincts with higher minority populations, greater chance of casting provisional ballotsArizona Senate leaders resurrected a handful of election bills Tuesday that had been stalled amid opposition from Democratic lawmakers and civil rights groups worried about voter disenfranchisement.

Senate President Andy Biggs unveiled the election omnibus bill that mirrors a handful of election bills proposed earlier in the legislative session. The bills had previously failed to gain traction in the GOP-led Legislature.

The omnibus bill would allow county election officials to remove voters from the permanent early voting list if they didn’t vote by mail in the two most recent general elections. Voters could stay on the list if they returned a completed notice within 30 days confirming their intent to vote by mail in the future. Local elected officials proposed the change because too many voters were showing up at local precinct places to vote after receiving mail ballots, creating concerns about voter fraud.

The bill also says political committees or organizations cannot return mail ballots for voters. Many election volunteers and Hispanic activists had decried a similar proposed law in recent months, saying it would limit voter turnout in low-income communities that tend to vote Democratic.

Voter-led efforts to change state government would also see changes. The bill requires petition circulators to register with the state elections office or risk having collected signatures be deemed invalid. They would also have to organize all signature sheets by the county of residence of the majority of the petition signers.

“Our volunteers in their communities go door to door to assist voters with getting their ballot to the polls, so this would tie our hands,” said Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona, a community group that has fought to block the election changes. “These bills create barriers for voters.”

If passed, the bill directs state and local election officials to launch a voter education campaign starting in 2013 to inform them of the new rules.

The changes seek to make it easier for election officials to do their jobs, while making it harder for voters who want to influence public policy, said Daria Ovide, spokeswoman for Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy, a group that helps register voters.

“These bills place all the responsibilities for fixing those problems on the voters and what that usually means is some voters will become more confused and some voters won’t participate in the process,” she said.

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