Lawsuit Accuses Arizona’s Absentee Ballot Laws of Disenfranchisement

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By Camaron Stevenson

June 11, 2020

“Every Arizonan deserves the right to have their voice heard at the ballot box.”

Another lawsuit challenging Arizona’s strict mail-in voting requirements was filed Wednesday in an attempt to prevent elections officials from throwing out absentee ballots that had not been signed by voters.

The lawsuit, filed jointly by the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the Arizona Democratic Party, claims the practice of tossing out absentee ballots without signatures is a form of voter disenfranchisement. It asks instead that voters who mail in their ballots without a signature be given five days to verify their vote.

During the 2018 elections, nearly 2,000 ballots of the 1.9 million votes cast were rejected due lack of signatures. 

“Millions of Arizonans vote by mail ballot, and that thousands of Arizonans have inadvertently failed to sign mail ballot envelopes in recent elections,” the lawsuit claims. “It is virtually certain that at least some members will mail a ballot without a signature in 2020.”

The lawsuit is one among many legal challenges to Arizona’s election process this year. In addition to challenging the ballot verification process, various groups have attempted to overturn Arizona’s ban on ballot collection, provide mail-in ballots to all voters during a public health crisis, and a push to have voters automatically added to the Permanent Early Voter List when they register to vote.

In each instance, Democrats have led the charge for election reforms. Felecia Rotellini, chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, says these laws do nothing but disenfranchise voters.

“Every Arizonan deserves the right to have their voice heard at the ballot box,” said Rotellini. “We are fighting this draconian rule that is disenfranchising voters and making it harder for ballots to be cast and counted.”

Many Republicans, by contrast, have been quick to contest any challenges to the election process. In an opinion piece published by the Arizona Republic, Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, made multiple unfounded claims against the state’s mail-in voting system.

“Mail-in ballots are the most complicated process. If voters mismark their ballots, they can request a replacement ballot,” wrote Bolick. “Not only does this lend itself to fraud and confusion, it requires extensive personnel and slows down counting.”

But according to research by the Brennan Center for Justice, voter fraud – meaning a voter casts multiple ballots or a non-voter attempts to vote – is virtually nonexistent in the U.S. Investigations into elections over the last decade found, “no evidence of widespread impersonation fraud,” and that, “the likely percent of non-citizen voters in recent US elections is 0.”

In a firm rebuke of Bolick’s accusations, Pinal County Recorder Virginia Ross published a rebuttal, correcting inaccuracies published by the Phoenix legislator.

“An opinion piece by Rep. Shawnna Bolick included inaccurate and often misleading information about ballot-by-mail elections,” wrote. “As election professionals, we are committed to ensuring that the rest of the elections in 2020 are accurate, secure and safe for voters.”

Among the inaccuracies she addressed were Bolick’s claim that mail-in voting carries a higher price tag than in-person voting, because absentee ballots must be printed on expensive paper. While ballots are printed on special paper, Ross pointed out that, “all ballots, whether received at a voting location or in the mail, are printed on a specific kind of paper, so there is no impact there.”

Bolick also claimed that 65 percent of voters oppose mail-in voting, but failed to note that the opposition was directed to elections held only by mail. In Arizona, voters overwhelmingly support casting absentee ballots — 80 percent of voters in the state are on the Permanent Early Voter List.

Bolick’s stance mirrors that of President Donald Trump who, despite voting by mail himself, has been a vocal opponent to widespread mail-in voting. Speaking earlier this month, Trump echoed an unfounded claim that absentee ballots are often fraudulent, and is a tool used by Democrats to cheat in elections. 

“The expressed reasons for opposition are false and not based in fact,” said Grant Woods, who served as Arizona’s Republican Attorney General from 1991 to 1999 before switching parties after President Trump’s election. “The real reason is they believe the lower the turnout, the better their chances.”


  • Camaron Stevenson

    Camaron is the Founding Editor and Chief Political Correspondent for The Copper Courier, and has worked as a journalist in Phoenix for over a decade. He also teaches multimedia journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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