Lawmakers have hundreds of bills to vote on, but one issue not being considered is expanding mail-in voting during a national health emergency.
When Gov. Doug Ducey first announced a state of emergency over the spread of the coronavirus, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs sent a letter to legislative leaders urging them to allow all temporary changes to how elections are held in emergency situations.
“Before the Legislature adjourns, it is vital that we build more flexibility into the law — even if only on a temporary basis — to allow elections officials to adapt to the circumstances on the ground,” Hobbs wrote. “Allowing all-mail elections would enable counties to conduct fair and secure elections and ensure that voters can safely vote despite an ongoing health emergency.”
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But Republicans, who have long opposed measures to make voting more accessible, were not persuaded by Hobbs’ letter. In response, Rep. Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix, wrote an op-ed for the Arizona Republic, who said the request was unnecessary and would open the elections to voter fraud.
“A knee-jerk reaction to move to a mail-only election would lead to lengthy tabulation scenarios compromising the integrity of our elections,” Bolick wrote. “Now is not the time to reduce our voting options to just one, especially during a national emergency.”
Straight From the Top
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.”
Opposing mail-in voting based on false claims has led to dangerous results. Wisconsin Republicans blocked efforts by Gov. Tony Evers to make changes to the state’s elections on April 7, instead pushing forward with in-person voting during the state’s stay-at-home order. Health officials have since identified at least seven people who may have contracted the coronavirus as a result of participating in the election.
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But Arizona Republicans appear unfazed at the risks posed by allowing in-person voting, which is scheduled to occur as planned for the 2020 elections. Voters who wish to receive absentee ballots for the state’s primary elections must register on the Permanent Early Voter List by July 6.
Legislature to Reconvene in May
In addition to the mail-in voting debate, a decision announced Tuesday by Republican leaders to adjourn the Arizona Legislature was scrapped less than 24 hours after it was announced, leaving plans in place for the legislature to reconvene on May 1.
Lawmakers recessed on March 23 due to health concerns related to holding mass gatherings caused by the coronavirus, with plans to finish the session in May if conditions had improved. Since recessing, more than 5,500 people have been reported as testing positive for the virus, resulting in 249 deaths statewide.
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Despite this, House Republicans convinced Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, to reverse his announcement to cancel the session altogether. House spokesman Andrew Wilder said they wanted to complete the session as normal.
“After speaking now with our caucus, a substantive majority of my members have expressed a strong desire to return and finish the work of the legislative session,” Bowers said in a statement.
Lawmaker Contracts Virus
The moves came as a Democratic senator became the first Arizona state lawmaker to come down with the infection. Sen. Lupe Contreras of Avondale, his wife, mother, father and a niece are all quarantined at home. Contreras, 44, lives in Avondale and has six children and four grandchildren.
“I hope that by sharing my family’s experience with this terrible virus will further clarify just how serious this pandemic is,” Contreras said in a statement. “My heart aches for all the other families experiencing this.”
Ending the session would have killed hundreds of bills and left the state operating on a bare-bones budget hastily passed in March. But while laws like House Bill 2706, that would ban trans athletes from playing sports, or Senate Bill 1397, which would allow insurers to charge more for preexisting conditions, one pressing issue will not be considered: voting during a health crisis.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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