Committee moves bill to purge permanent early voting list

Ben Giles//February 7, 2019

Committee moves bill to purge permanent early voting list

Ben Giles//February 7, 2019

Maricopa County elections official Deborah Atkins places a "vote" sign outside a polling station prior to it's opening, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Maricopa County elections official Deborah Atkins places a “vote” sign outside a polling station prior to its opening, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Signing up to receive a ballot by mail in Arizona, a system known as the Permanent Early Voting List, may no longer be as permanent as the name suggests.

Voters who don’t participate in at least one of the primary or general elections in two consecutive election cycles would be purged from that list under a proposal by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale.

They’d still be eligible to vote, but would either have to cast a ballot in person or re-register for PEVL to again receive a ballot by mail.

Lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Ugenti-Rita’s SB1188 on a 4-3 party line vote, with Republicans arguing it was a necessary fix to clean up the mailing list and prevent ballots from being sent to voters who’ve moved and haven’t updated their address.

The inconvenience of being purged from the early-voting list versus the convenience of alternative voting methods was the subject of fierce debate, primarily between citizens who testified against the bill and Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, the chair of the Judiciary Committee. The Mesa Republican repeatedly told those who testified that their arguments that voting options would be limited were inaccurate given the other options they’d still have to cast a ballot.

Farnsworth said he was dumbfounded by opposition from Secretary of State’s Office, the Arizona Association of Counties and county recorders who told lawmakers the bill was unnecessary, and accused those who were opposed to the bill of “making excuses for voters by claiming they’re being inconvenienced.”

All four Republicans on the committee shared stories of residents who’d received early ballots at an address for another voter who no longer lives there. In one instance, Sen. Sonny Borrelli said ballots were mailed in error for a dead relative to a resident of his district.

“Mistakes happen, and I respect what we’re trying to clean up here,” said Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City.

Farnsworth described his own ease of voting in person at early voting sites as an example of an alternative voting method if someone is purged from PEVL.

But several voters who testified before the committee described how their own personal voting experiences differ from what Farnsworth described as his own.

Elizabeth Thorley said it’s difficult for her to vote, be it by mail or in person, due to a disability and sensitivity to light that can make it unhealthy to simply go outside. Rebecca McHood, who described herself as a civic-minded Mormon mother, noted that when her children are sent on missions, they are likely to be purged from PEVL while serving for 24 months outside the state or in another country.

Farnsworth, who’s also Mormon, said they could easily re-register for PEVL once they return to Arizona.

“You don’t think that’s inconvenient for anyone,” McHood said, to which Farnsworth replied no.

“Wow, good for you, neat,” McHood said.

Attorney Don Johnsen echoed the concerns of the League of Women Voters, which cited statistics that roughly 80 percent of the 3.7 million registered voters in Arizona get their ballot by mail. It’s unknown how many would be impacted because they don’t participate in elections as frequently as SB1188 requires, and Johnsen added that it’s unknown what their personal experiences with voting are.

“People may not see as many convenient ways to vote as the chairman does,” Johnsen told the committee.

Though the bill advanced Republicans promised some changes.

While Ugenti-Rita’s said it’s her intent that participation in any one of four elections over a two year period would ensure a voter remains on PEVL, as written, the threshold for voting is far stricter – the bill states that voters must participate in both a primary and general election, not either, an issue acknowledged by the sponsor. Ugenti-Rita told the committee she’d offer an amendment on the Senate floor to clarify the language.

County recorders were also concerned that there’s no requirement that voters be notified before their names are purged from the early-voting list. But Ugenti-Rita said she didn’t address the issue in her bill in order to leave it to local elections officials to decide if and how they would try and contact voters.