Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey Signs Controversial GOP-Backed Bill That Could Purge Thousands from Early Voting List

Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

By Lorraine Longhi

May 11, 2021

Arizona’s GOP lawmakers passed legislation Tuesday that could purge thousands of voters from Arizona’s permanent early voting list. 

The law is part of a slate of restrictive Republican-backed voting legislation that has emerged across the country in the wake of the 2020 election results.

Currently, registered voters in Arizona can opt-in to be on a “permanent early voting list,” which will automatically send them a ballot by mail each election. Once the voter has filled it out, the ballot can be mailed back or dropped off at a polling site. 

Senate Bill 1485, signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey Tuesday, would remove voters from the list who do not vote by mail in two consecutive election cycles.

Supporters of the bill say it’s meant to ensure that voter rolls are adequately maintained to avoid fraud, but critics have said it will disenfranchise thousands of voters, particularly voters from marginalized communities.

Gov. Doug Ducey signed the bill an hour after it was passed in the Arizona Senate Tuesday, saying it was an issue of election integrity.

“Despite all the deceptive and heated rhetoric being used by some partisan activists to lobby against this reform, not a single Arizona voter will lose their right to vote as a result of this new law,” Ducey said. 

But some lawmakers and voting rights groups say the bill could purge more than 100,000 voters and lead to longer lines on Election Day, making it more difficult for more people to vote.

The bill also drew ire from local business leaders. In an op-ed for the Arizona Capitol Times, more than 50 executives from prominent Arizona businesses, including Michael Bidwill of the Arizona Cardinals, signed onto a letter saying that SB 1485 was just one voting law that was misguided and must be defeated.

“These proposals are a concerted effort from those in Arizona —and across the nation—who wish to sow additional doubts about our elections in the minds of voters, and feed into the paranoia that has plagued our political discourse over the past several months,” the letter read. “Disturbingly, each of these proposals have one thing in common: making it more difficult for Arizonans to vote.”

Ducey issued a challenge to “large corporations” who have “decided to insert themselves into the debate over election law” Tuesday. “My advice to them regarding this law is simple: Know what you’re talking about before you say anything.”

The governor said big businesses had embraced a “static” view of elections, viewing any change to election laws “suspiciously.”

“It’s wrong, dead wrong,” Ducey said. “Not one of them would run their businesses that way, and that’s not how we’re going to run Arizona elections.”

“A Mistake That Will Undermine Our Elections”

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the state’s chief election officer, asked Doug Ducey last month to veto SB 1485, saying the state already had a process to determine whether voter registrations are current.

“‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,’” Hobbs wrote at the time. “Arizona’s vote-by-mail system is tried and true, and the changes proposed in this bill aren’t just unnecessary—they’re detrimental to voters.”

On Tuesday, following Ducey’s signing of the law, Hobbs called it “a mistake that will undermine our elections, not improve them.”

Pushback to the law also came in a statement from several community organizations and voting groups like the Arizona chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents 24,000 workers across the state, the Arizona Education Association, the League of Women Voters Arizona, and All Voting Is Local Arizona.

“SB1485 is a voter suppression bill, plain and simple,” the statement read. “It is a conscious effort to put barriers in the way of Arizonans trying to make their voices heard.”

Alex Gulotta, director of All Voting Is Local Arizona, told The Copper Courier last month that fringe politics seeking to undermine access to elections have become mainstream in recent months.

“If fringe voices are allowed to control the discourse based on conspiracy theories and lies, that’s a really bad place for us to be,” Gulotta said. “Increasingly, businesses are speaking out that election disenfranchisement is not what we want to be doing. It is not the appropriate way to go.”

Ahead of Ducey’s signing of the bill, House Minority Leader Rep. Reginald Bolding wrote a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asking for his help in pushing back against the legislation, saying the voice of professional sports leagues would make a difference.

The move comes after Major League Baseball announced last month that it would no longer host its All-Star Game in Atlanta after Georgia implemented new restrictions on voting. Georgia’s law also prompted criticism from companies like Delta Airlines, Coca-Cola, and high-profile film productions.

“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said at the time. 

Following Ducey’s signing Tuesday, Bolding said that Republicans were “desperate” to game the system and hold onto power by erecting hurdles for voters of color.

“The speed with which Governor Ducey signed #SB1485 shows just how afraid of a fair fight Legislative Republicans have become,” Bolding wrote. “Never forget that Legislative Republicans are afraid of how you will vote so they made it harder for you to vote.”

But Arizona could still see repercussions, as it has in the past.

Arizona lost its chance to host the Super Bowl in 1993 after Arizona voters opted not to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a paid holiday. The state is currently set to host the Super Bowl in Glendale in 2023.
“With immense respect, it is time for organizations like the NFL, the NCAA and the College Football National Championship to get off the sidelines and take a stand like Major League Baseball,” Bolding wrote in his letter to Goodell on Tuesday. “We hope you will support our effort to protect voting rights in Arizona and wherever they may be threatened.”


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