Freshman lawmaker seeks ban on voting by mail

Freshman lawmaker seeks ban on voting by mail

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An election worker tabulates ballots inside the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office on Nov. 10 in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

A newly elected state lawmaker who wants to overturn the 2022 election is now trying to get colleagues to outlaw voting by mail.

The proposal by Rep. Liz Harris, R-Chandler, says anyone who wants to vote must go to the polls. HB 2229 says the only exception would be those who are physically unable or those in the military who are overseas.

But that’s only part of her agenda.

Harris also is sponsoring HB 2232. It not only would preclude early voting – even in person – but also require that all ballots be counted by hand.

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Rep.-elect Liz Harris

And her HB 2233 seeks to expand the grounds on which anyone could sue to overturn election results and give them and their allies the power to inspect each ballot. Current law permits the review of only a random sample.

But it is her bid to require people to go to the polls and vote in person that could have the broadest impact.

In the most recent race, more than 80% of the nearly 2.6 million voters chose to take advantage of a 1991 law that allows anyone to request an early ballot. But Harris said that doesn’t make it right.

She said the audit of the 2020 election ordered by then-Senate President Karen Fann provided access to both the ballot envelopes and each person’s voter registration card.

“They have a 12% mismatch rate that’s a firm mismatch rate,” Harris said. She said people “can see it firsthand” – if they sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Harris, who lost her 2020 bid for the Legislature before winning a House seat this year, said this isn’t about Donald Trump who was defeated that year or even Kari Lake who continues to insist that the gubernatorial election was stolen from her. She said the problem has existed since the law was adopted three decades ago.

So why would voters and lawmakers agree to kill a program that has proven so popular? Harris said it comes down to convincing the majority that there was fraud in the election and that their votes were stolen.

“Their vote is being canceled because there’s another vote being entered into the system,” she told Capitol Media Services. And Harris said the reason people don’t know that is “the media.”

Similar claims were raised in lawsuits challenging both the 2020 and 2022 elections. But challengers have failed in each attempt to convince a judge that any laws were broken.

Harris’s legislation is based on the legal theory that the only form of voting specifically authorized by the Arizona Constitution is in person and on Election Day. And she is hanging her hat on requirements for a “secret ballot.”

“An election by secret ballot is an election in which voters are provided absolute protection against the possibility of any other person knowing how they voted,” Harris wrote in her legislation. And that, she said, includes family members, friends and coworkers.

“A person who is the head of a household can demand that the household vote together at the kitchen table or that any adult children allow the head of the household to vote their ballots since they live in that person’s home,” Harris said in HB 2229.

What in-person voting also precludes, Harris said, is the ability to buy someone’s vote, as the person offering the money has no way to know how the other person who was paid off, filling out his or her ballot inside a voting booth, actually marked the ballot.

“This physically protected area is the polling booth with privacy curtain, within a staffed polling location, with the ballots strictly controlled within the polling location and with no ballots coming in or going out,” her legislation reads. “Ballots are voted on site, folded and placed in a ballot box.”

If the arguments sound familiar, they should.

They closely parallel claims made by attorney Alexander Kolodin last year in a lawsuit filed by the Arizona Republican Party. And he, too, cited that constitutional right to a secret ballot in his bid to kill early voting.

Mohave County Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen acknowledged that Kolodin presented examples of “bad actors” violating laws dealing with early voting.

That includes instances in Yuma County where a woman pleaded guilty to collecting the early ballots of others and, in some cases, marking how they should be voted. The judge said, however, that didn’t make the system unconstitutional.

“Furthermore, they do not show a pattern of conduct so egregious as to undermine the entire system of no-excuse mail-in voting as provided by the Arizona Legislature,” he wrote. “Enforcement mechanisms exist within the statutes to punish those that do not abide by the statutes.”

Kolodin, elected this year along with Harris to the state House, has taken the case to the Court of Appeals which heard arguments last month but has not yet issued an opinion.

Harris is doing more than introducing bills to change laws on voting based on her beliefs that prior elections were stolen.

Just days after the election, Harris staked out a public position by not only demanding a revote of the Nov. 8 election but saying that “I will now be withholding my vote on any bills this session without this new election in protest to what is clearly a potential fraudulent election.”

Even though Republicans hold a bare 31-29 margin in the House, her refusal to go along may not matter.

Any measure approved strictly on party lines is likely to be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs. And if legislation has bipartisan support, Republicans won’t need her vote.