Controversial GOP-Backed Bill That Would Purge Thousands from Early Voting List Passes House

AP Photo/Matt York

By Bree Burkitt

April 21, 2021

The bill will now return to the Senate for a final vote. 

The Arizona House voted Tuesday to pass a controversial bill that would purge thousands of voters from the state’s permanent early voting list if they miss every election in two consecutive election cycles. 

Senate Bill 1485 could purge more than 150,000 voters and lead to longer lines on Election Day. 

More than 126,000 registered voters would have been purged in the 2020 election, specifically. 

The bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita of Scottsdale, passed by party lines in the Republican-controlled House Tuesday. It will now return to the Senate for a final vote as it was amended in the House before going to Gov. Doug Ducey. Ducey, a Republican, has not said whether he would sign it.

Currently, Arizona has some of the simplest voting laws. Registered voters can easily opt into being placed on a “permanent early voting list” and automatically be sent a ballot by mail each election. The ballot can then be mailed back or dropped off at a polling site. County election officials review ballots, and the signature is matched to what’s on file. 

Approximately 80% of Arizonans use early ballots. 

SB1485 would remove voters who skip voting by mail in every election in two consecutive election cycles. Affected voters would get a postcard asking if they want to remain on the list and would be removed if they don’t respond within 90 days. If removed, they could reapply for early voting or vote in person at a polling location instead.

“This is An Effort to Make It Harder for People of Color to Vote” 

Multiple Democrats expressed concern that the bill would be especially harmful to communities of color, seniors, and numerous others. Early statistics showed thousands of voters of color would be purged from the early voting list. 

“Why are we afraid of our communities coming out to vote?” Rep. Raquel Terán, a Phoenix Democrat who is also chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, asked.

“This is an effort to make it harder for people of color to vote,” Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley, said. 

Lieberman’s comment was called out by other members and Speaker Rusty Bowers, who described Lieberman’s assertion as “racist.” Multiple Republicans tried to prevent Democrats from saying the GOP intended to suppress votes from people of color.

But Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said it was “racist behavior to strip us of our freedom to vote,” noting that many of those denied the right to speak are BIPOC and represent majority-minority districts. 

Jennifer Jermaine, D-Chandler, and Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren, D-Red Mesa, noted the bill would have devastating results for tribal members and rural voters, who often travel long distances to polling locations and may not have guaranteed access to transportation or technology. 

Kelli Butler, D-Scottsdale, said that the bill would strip Americans of their fundamental right to vote and that it would have drastically changed the election results in her district.

“This is an awful attempt to take away the right to vote for hundreds of thousands of Arizonans,” Butler said. 

GOP Insists Bill is About Election Integrity

Republicans insisted that was not the case and that the bill was designed to tighten election procedures in an attempt to reassure voters who no longer trust election results. 

“It [the bill] does not remove anyone from voter rolls and, therefore, it does not disenfranchise a single Arizona voter,” Jake Hoffman, a Republican from Queen Creek, said. 

Multiple Republicans said it was an issue of preventing election fraud. Rep. John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills said ballot security was lax with the current system. He claimed that county recorders simply throw out a ballot when they encounter a signature that doesn’t match what’s on file. They don’t contact the attorney general’s election integrity unit, Kavanah claimed. 

Neither Kavanagh nor any other supporters of the bill provided specific proof of this or any other instance of voter fraud occurring. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Arizona or the rest of the US.

Businesses Speak Out Against Bill

Business group Greater Phoenix Leadership and more than 50 executives, including the Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwell, signed a letter calling the measure and others being considered by the legislature “voter suppression.” 

Similar voter suppression bills passed in George this year and were quickly condemned by large companies in the state and major sporting events and pulled out in response.

Arizona is set to host the 2023 Super Bowl and the 2024 Final Four and some worry the state could face similar consequences if the bill passes, which would be a huge economic loss for the state.

READ MORE: We Asked These Companies Where They Stand on Arizona’s Anti-Voter Bills. They Didn’t Answer.




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