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Early voting change short on votes

Voting ballot box isometric vector icon with paper sheet

While the Arizona Senate took another step towards banning voters from dropping off their mail-in ballots at polls, the measure is effectively dead due to opposition from two Republicans.

Sens. Heather Carter and Kate Brophy McGee are opposed to SB1046, which require voters who request a ballot by mail to return it by mail. If not, they’d be required to go to a polling place and vote in person, rather than have the option to drop off the mail-in ballot at election sites across the state.

Some 228,000 mail-ballots were dropped off at polling sites on the day of the 2018 general election, and both Carter and Brophy McGee said they object to barring that long standing practice in Arizona elections. Carter, a Cave Creek Republican, acknowledged that she’s one of those voters who delivers her mail in ballot by hand.

“The analogy someone used with me is toothpaste back in the tube,” Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, told the Arizona Capitol Times. “People are used to doing it that way, they want to do it that way. I’d love to find a way to be mree efficient, but this isn’t the way to get there.”

Brophy McGee also cited testimony from county recorders, the officials responsible for running elections, that contradicted the core rationale offered by Sen. Ugenti-Rita to sponsor SB1046 – that requiring ballots to be mailed back would expedite the process of counting ballots.

“My understanding is that it will not save time,” Brophy McGee said.

Combined with the unanimous opposition from the Senate’s 13 Democrats, that leaves Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, one vote shy of the 16-vote majority needed for a bill to be approved in the Senate.

Nonetheless, the bill was the subject of fierce debate in the Senate on Wednesday before senators took a voice vote to advance the bill one step further in the legislative process.

Ugenti-Rita and Republicans characterized voting as a “privilege” or “responsibility” and decried the practice of dropping off ballots and the slow vote counting process as a drag on the public’s faith in Arizona elections. And Ugenti-Rita brushed aside the concern of county recorders, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that eliminating the ballot drop off won’t help them count votes any faster. Worse, some warned it could depress voter turnout.

Republicans bristled at this particular accusation as Democratic senators, one after another, spoke in fear of the bill unintentionally suppressing votes or disenfranchising voters who choose to drop off their mail-in ballots.

“This will be a step backwards in terms of voter accessibility,” said Sen. Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix.

Republicans countered that there are still plenty of options afforded to voters if they can’t return their ballots by mail. At one point, Republican Sen. Eddie Farnsworth scolded Democratic Sen. Juan Mendez for suggesting that a bill such as Ugenti-Rita’s could be racist.

Mendez, a Tempe Democrat, had said that the “human impact” of some bills could be detrimental, and that he wished bills could be studied “to find out how racist some of these bills are.”

Sen. David Farnsworth, R-Mesa, called the practice of dropping of ballots “ridiculous.”

“Voting needs to be respected,” he said. “When I was young I didn’t hear so much about the right to vote, I heard about the responsibility to vote.”

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