A House panel voted Wednesday after heated debate to prohibit election officials from accepting already filled-out early ballots at polling places unless voters first provide identification.
The party-line 7-6 vote by the Republican-dominated House Committee on Government and Elections came amid questions about whether the measure will erect new barriers to voting. Rep. Lorenzo Sierra, D-Avondale, said this will only exacerbate what often are already long lines to cast a ballot.
But the rhetoric turned contentious among several minority lawmakers with sharply divergent views on what effect HB 2241 would have on members of their own community — and whether requirements to present ID are effectively saying that minorities can’t manage to comply.
“As a person of color … I am a little offended that we say, ‘Oh, poor people or minorities or people of color, they don’t have ID and we’ve got to make is super easy for them to vote,’ ” said Rep. Teresa Martinez, R-Casa Grande. She said she was speaking not only as someone of color but as the mother of a child who is Black and Native American.
“It is a lot offensive that people want to say, ‘Oh, you poor little thing, I’ll help you, we’ll make it easy for you,’ ” Martinez. And she similarly dismissed concerns that residents of some rural areas lack the kind of identification that the legislation would require.
“I can assure you that people in Casa Grande, people in Stanfield, people in Pichacho, people in Superior, Hayden, Winkelman, they have ID,” Martinez said. That’s because when the police come to talk with them, they are asked to produce identification.
House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, told Martinez that just because access to polling places hasn’t been an issue for her and her family does not mean there is no problem.
“I haven’t been shot by police,” he said.
“But that doesn’t mean other African-American across this country aren’t shot by police,” Bolding said. “So that doesn’t mean that’s not an issue.”
He said lawmakers need to look beyond their own experiences.
Martinez was not impressed by that example.
“White people are shot by police as well,” she said, saying that looking at issues in this way “create people of color as victims.”
“I can help myself,” Martinez said. “I can help people of my same color.”
Anyone who has received an early ballot is free to drop it in the mailbox without further ID.
Some people, however, choose to wait until the last minute and take them to a polling place. Under current law, all they need do is drop it off.
HB 2241 says election workers would need to demand ID “on which the voter’s name reasonably appears to be the same as on the ballot affidavit.”
Those dropping off ballots for others would need not only their own ID but have to sign an affidavit that they are handling only those from family members, household members or caregivers.
In both cases, failure to comply would be a felony, with the penalty of a year in prison.
Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, who crafted the measure, said this isn’t about race. He said polls show that a majority of Hispanics, Blacks and Asians all support voter ID requirements.
And Hoffman said it’s also not partisan, saying the same survey found even 69% of Democrats wanting people to produce identification when casting ballots.
“We want to make it as easy as possible for every legal ballot to be cast,” he said. “And we want to make it hard for illegal ballots to be cast.”
But Sierra said that ignores the hurdles that Hoffman’s bill would impose. He cited the situation in his own voting precincts where about 800 people come to the polls.
“Half the people come with their early ballots filled out,” Sierra said. These are people who like the convenience of getting their ballots early, filling them out at home, putting it in the envelope, and liking “the convenience of just dropping it off,” yet still participating in Election Day.
“There’s already long lines at that polling station,” he said. “If we are doing this, boy, we are just making it so inconvenient for working people that want to drop off their ballot, that have done right by the electoral system and by our democracy.”
Jennifer Marson, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties, said the legislation would complicats the existing process where poll workers check in people who come in to fill out their ballots on Election Day. And she said it’s often hard enough to get enough people to staff these facilities.
What HB 2241 would do, Marson said, is force those who just want to drop off their already filled-out ballots to get in the same line to check in.
“So, on the voter’s end, you’re going to have longer wait lines in the instances where it’s a big election,” she said, not just for those who simply want to drop off their ballots but those waiting in line to vote that day.
The measure is just one of many proposals this year by Republican lawmakers to impose new requirements on the voting process. Other measures range from limiting or outlawing drop boxes entirely to restricting or eliminating early voting entirely.
Bolding said this bill is part of a larger agenda by the Republican majority.
“We’ve seen `a sustained effort at the legislature to make it more difficult to use the vote-by-mail system,” he said, and not just this year. Bolding pointed out that lawmakers last session scrapped the “permanent early voting list,” requiring counties to stop sending early ballots to people who decide not to use them in two successive election cycles.
The measure now needs approval of the full House.