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Time runs out for challenge to new election laws at ballot

A poll observer stretches outside a polling station on Election Day, early, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Arizonans are not going to be able to override a series of changes in voting law approved earlier this year by the Republican-controlled legislature.

Eric Kramer, chairman of Arizona Deserves Better, confirmed that the volunteers did not get the 118,823 signatures needed on each of the three petitions to block enactment of the laws until voters get a chance to decide whether to ratify or veto them.

“It came down to time,” he told Capitol Media Services. He said that even with a big push at the end, there was no way to meet the deadline of 5 p.m. Tuesday.

But Kramer said that those who sought to put the issue to voters will remain active and continue to oppose what they believe are efforts to restrict access to the ballot.

The measures that the organization sought to refer to the 2022 ballot included:

– Changes to what until now has been a “permanent early voting list” that stop the early ballots from coming if people don’t use them in two prior election cycles, even if they decide instead to go directly to polling places;

– Prohibiting state and local election officials from obtaining outside grants for voter registration and election administration even if they believes they are not being properly funded from government sources;

– Requiring new ballots to be encoded with special anti-fraud protections and unique numbers and codes, a measure that also strips Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of her power to defend election law challenges.

The common thread for all the measures Kramer sought to refer to voters are that foes see them as a way of giving Republicans an edge in future elections, particularly after Biden beat Trump in Arizona last year by just 10,457 votes.

But as it turns out, the last two now appear unnecessary: Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper on Monday voided those provisions. She said they were illegally tucked into massive “budget reconciliation bills” in violation of state constitutional provisions that require anything in legislation to be reflected in the title.

That leaves the measure on the permanent early voting list which, with the failure of the referendum drive, takes effect Wednesday.

As the law existed, once someone signs up, he or she remained on the list as long as that person is registered to vote.

But Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, argued those lists are now clogged with people who apparently are not interested in using those early ballots. She also said that sending early ballots to people who may not want them creates the chance they could be used fraudulently by someone else.

Her new law says those who do not use an early ballot at all in two successive election cycles — meaning a primary, a general, and a primary and a general two years later — is sent a notice asking if they continue to be interested. If they do not respond, they are removed from the list.

“Nobody responds to these government mailings,” Kramer said. “They’re not much of a safeguard.”

Ugenti-Rita said those removed from the list can reapply. And she noted they retain their right to go to a polling place.

During testimony on the measure, Democrats said it is crafted in a way to harm low-efficacy voters, those who may turn out only when there is a race of interest.

That is what happened in 2020. Foes estimated that had the law been in effect it would have denied early ballots in 2020 to more than 100,000 people who chose not to use them in 2016 and 2018 — far above the margin of victory for Biden.

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