Arizona House sends measure boosting voter ID to ballot

March 1, 2022 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) — The Republican-controlled Arizona House on Monday joined the GOP-led state Senate in approving a measure that will ask voters in November to drastically boost identification requirements needed for in-person and mail voting in the battleground state.

Arizona already has very strong voter ID laws, but Republicans contend they leave room for fraud or illegal votes. Democrats say the measure and many of the scores of election bills making their way through the Legislature this year are efforts to suppress the vote in one of the key states former President Donald Trump lost in 2020.

The ballot referral bill approved Monday changes the popular vote-by-mail system used by 90% of the state’s voters by adding a requirement that voters include their date of birth and early voting number along with their signature on their return ballots. Voters currently just sign their name, and county officials compare that to signatures they have on file with verified voter registration documents.

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It also limits the type of identification acceptable to prove identity when someone goes to the polls to vote in-person. And it removes the ability of an in-person voter who does not have their identification to show two documents, like a tax or water bill, to prove they are the person on the voter rolls. Those verified voter rolls have already confirmed the person’s right to vote.

“I don’t see what’s wrong with this. I really don’t,” said Republican Rep. Walt Blackman of Snowflake. “Because all its doing is protecting our election and the process.”

Democrats said that Republicans were downplaying the impact of the law, noting that a similar Texas law that passed last year has led to hundreds of valid mail ballot requests being rejected. Democratic Rep. Mitzi Epstein of Tempe said the rejection rate had jumped from 10% to 35%.

“It is a problem to take multiple pages of voting instruction and reduce it to ‘voter ID,’” Epstein said. “That’s not what this bill is.”

The referral mirrors a voter initiative that Republican lawmakers and conservative groups began collecting signatures for last August. The vote negates the need to gather those signatures, since it now will automatically be on the ballot.

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The Arizona Republican Party on Friday filed a lawsuit asking the state Supreme Court to strike down the vote-by-mail system entirely, arguing the system used by 90% of voters is unconstitutional. The lawsuit asks the justices to get rid of it or at least eliminate no-excuse absentee voting.

The lawsuit and the election bills come as the GOP works on many fronts to remake the system for casting and counting votes following Trump’s loss, despite the lack of evidence that there were any major problems in the election.

The House also approved four other election bills Monday, including one that applies to people who register using a federal form where they sign under penalty of perjury that they are a citizen and entitled to vote. Those voters are only allowed to vote in federal races until they provide county election officials with proof of citizenship.

Republican Rep. Jake Hoffman of Queen Creek, the bill’s sponsor, said the number of people using the federal form without providing proof of citizenship had jumped between 2018 and 2020.

“So clearly this is a trend that is increasing,” Hoffman said. “This bill ensues that there is maximum flexibility to provide documentary proof of citizenship, but we don’t want foreign interference in our elections.”

Hoffman’s proposal bars voters who registered using the federal form from voting in presidential elections or getting a mail ballot. They still can cast ballots in congressional elections.

It requires county recorders to check databases to try to prove if someone is a citizen, and requires them to send any doubtful registrations to the attorney general for investigation and possible prosecution.

The measure also adds requirements for registration using state forms, including requiring voters to include their place of birth and a verified residence address. And it makes it a felony for an election official to register someone who does not qualify.

Democrats noted that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that Arizona could not reject registrations using the federal form, in an opinion written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative icon.

“This bill ... is not going anywhere,” said Rep. Lorenzo Sierra, a Democrat from Cashion. “It’s going to end up at the Supreme Court, and they’re going to bat it right (back) at us like they’ve done time and again.”

The other three election bills passed the House on Monday with only Republican votes.

They include one that adds more partisan election observers and access to voter rolls, and another that requires voter lists to be published before and after each election.

The House also approved, along party lines, a measure that bars settlements of any lawsuit that challenges any Arizona election law.

Republican Rep. Jaqueline Parker of Mesa said she added one exception on Monday at the request of GOP Gov. Doug Ducey: A settlement can be approved if the attorney general, secretary of state, House speaker and Senate president approve, and if the Legislative Council, which provides legal advice and bill drafting to lawmakers, OKs it after a public hearing.