A coalition of community groups is asking Arizona voters to overturn a series of restrictions on registration and voting already enacted and those now being contemplated this year by the Republican-controlled legislature.
Arizonans for Free and Fair Elections has taken the first steps to put a measure on the November ballot that would restore the “permanent early voting list” that lawmakers killed in 2021. It also would ensure that people can continue to cast their ballots in person over the weekend right before Election Day and repeal laws that limit to whom someone can give an early ballot to take to the polls.
And it would void some of the hurdles that lawmakers have put in the path of those who want to propose their own laws and constitutional amendments, hurdles that this measure will need to vaunt like wholesale challenges to petition signatures.
But Joel Edman of the Arizona Democracy Resource Center, one of the organizers of the initiative, said a larger goal is to cut off measures now being debated, like eliminating drop boxes for ballots that aid the disabled and eliminating options for early voting.
The measure also would put a permanent halt to the kind of efforts that are still taking place to overturn the 2020 election with some lawmakers still seeking to substitute their own slate of presidential electors despite the popular vote for President Biden.
“We vote for who wins,” Edman said. “Our legislature doesn’t get to go and change it for us after the fact.”
And there’s another significant curb on legislative powers.
It would prevent lawmakers from handing over ballots and election equipment “to unqualified sort of Cyber Ninjas-type folks who want to run another scam on our state and just breed distrust and misinformation using our public dollars to do it.”
The organization has just five months to gather 237,645 valid signatures to put the issue on the November ballot. And, given the possibility of signatures being disqualified — including business and conservative groups using legal procedures that have kept prior initiatives off the ballot — Edman said he recognizes that a lot more names will need to be gathered by the July 7 deadline.
“We’re doing our best to be prepared for them,” he said. “But the best answer is to get as many signatures as possible.”
If the proposal makes the ballot, voters could be confronted with two very different approaches to election laws.
A separate initiative drive being funded by the Arizona Free Enterprise Club would impose new restrictions on voters before they can cast a ballot.
It would add a requirement that anyone dropping a ballot in the mail also provide a date of birth and other identification like a driver’s license number the last four digits of a Social Security number. That same requirement would apply to those who drop off their early ballots at polling places.
Edman told Capitol Media Services on Tuesday that the provisions in the new initiative are designed to ensure that Arizonans have every opportunity to vote “so that we can get results that accurately reflect the needs of our communities and not whatever agendas people in power are running with to benefit their big donors or whatever the case may be.”
In fact, the measure takes specific aims at what Edman says are those special interests.
On one hand, it would provide more public cash to candidates who agree not take campaign donations.
Potentially more significant, it would curb the maximum anyone could contribute to candidates — now $6,250 — to just $1,000 to local candidates, the same for legislative contenders and $2,500 for those seeking statewide office.
And it would eliminate the exemption that now exists for travel, lodging, food and drinks from laws that now ban gifts to lawmakers from lobbyists.
“When this is passed, there should be no more going out with lobbyists to Durant’s the night before a vote, that kind of a thing,” Edman said, referring to the pricey midtown Phoenix steak house.
The 27-page initiative also contains another significant provision: It would automatically register people to vote when they apply for a driver’s license unless they specifically opt out. And what that also would mean is the ability to vote on the same day as registration.
That goes directly contrary to two proposals by Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek.
His HB2236 would require people to actively request an application to vote. HB2237 would outlaw same-day voter registration, something Arizona does not have but he said needs to be precluded to prevent the possibility of fraud.
Both measures have been approved by the House Committee on Government and Elections and await a vote of the full House.
Edman said this will not lead to fraud, citing language in the initiative that specifically requires that a person’s eligibility to register be verified before a vote is counted.
He said counties have the ability to do that on the spot, with existing requirements for people to prove they are legally in the country even before they can get a license.
“But if not, it says that a voter will vote a ‘provisional ballot’ for that exact reasons, so that counties can, after the fact, verify that they do have all the information that’s required under Arizona law for someone to register to vote, that they are a registered voter before that ballot gets counted,” Edman said.
Other provisions include:
– Requiring county election officials to consult with tribes before locating or moving a voting location;
– Permitting anyone to provide food and non-alcoholic beverages to those waiting in lines at the polls, something not specifically prohibited here but that GOP lawmakers in Georgia put into the law there.
– Enacting new ballot privacy provisions prohibiting any marks that could identify an individual voter.
Edman said others involved in the initiative include Mi Familia Vota, Chispa Arizona and Living United for Change in Arizona, the organization that successfully convinced voters here, twice, to raise the minimum wage.