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This week at the Arizona Capitol: Election deadlines and vehicle emissions bill

By Mark Brodie
Published: Monday, February 5, 2024 - 11:10am
Updated: Monday, February 5, 2024 - 1:45pm

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After running through a vote-counting machine, an election worker gathers ballots
Drake Presto/Cronkite News
After running through a vote-counting machine, an election worker gathers ballots at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center on Nov. 10, 2022.

To break down what’s happening at the Capitol this week, The Show spoke with Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services.

Arizona lawmakers and the governor face a deadline of the end of this week to come up with a fix to a calendar issue that could cause major problems for this year’s elections.

A new state law broadens out the margins at which a mandatory recount needs to take place. It used to be a margin of one-tenth of 1%. Now, it’s less than a half of a percentage point. That’s expected to lead to more recounts.

But those can only happen once the election is certified. County election officials say after the primary, that will cause a delay in sending general election ballots to military and overseas voters. For the presidential election, they say the recounts could still be going on when the Electoral College votes are being counted in D.C.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, there’s disagreement between GOP legislative leadership and Gov. Katie Hobbs about the best way to handle these problems.

Also, lawmakers are considering a bill about vehicle emissions that could draw the ire of the EPA.

Interview highlights

HOWARD FISCHER: You know, we've been talking about this since last September and here it is Feb. 5. We have a Feb. 9 deadline and all of a sudden it's, uh-oh, we have a problem.

Seriously. Well, so like what it seems as though there are some details that are starting to come out about what specifically the legislative Republicans would like to do. Gov. Hobbs, at least for some of them, does not seem to be such a huge fan.

FISCHER: Well, I think the governor is finally coming around to the idea that she didn't like initially, which is, you have to move up the primary. The primary now is in August. But as you point out if you have a primary then and you have to have recounts, then you have those overseas ballots that can't go out until after the recounts and the whole thing. And they've been monkeying with this for a while.

I think there's some agreement on that, but there are some things that Republicans who have had many of their election bills vetoed in the past want now and figured, wait, hey, we're in a good position here, because to solve this immediately takes a two-thirds vote, meaning a bipartisan solution including the governor.

One of the big things they want is a new signature verification process. Now, you may be call much of Kari Lake's argument was obviously they let all these absentee ballots these early ballots come through and nobody bothered verifying signatures. Judges, judges weren't buying that. But now they have this plan to say here's the procedures that that county officials have to follow in verifying every early ballot signature. Governor is not so keen on doing that. She thinks maybe it will disenfranchise voters. And so they're try that the bill that's gonna be formally introduced today by the House includes that, too. Now, the question is, who blinks?

Well, it seems as though this comes kind of comes down to the debate, which we hear in Congress sometimes, of a, a clean bill versus I'm not sure what they call the, the non, the other version of that, but like the one that has other things in it. And it seems though the governor wants the clean bill just to deal with the, the calendar issue, not other things like signature verification, for example.

FISCHER: Oh, exactly. I think that's what the Democrats are saying. You know, we can deal with other issues issue as far as voter, you know, voter verification registration. All those other things can be dealt with separately. But again, we're down to the point of the Republicans' power to get stuff past the governor is dependent on her desire to have this. So, you know, everybody's taking advantage of it.

Again, I know you're shocked to know that people would take political advantage of a situation where they say, hey, we're in control here and we can make something happen. The, some of the Democrats having a press conference later this morning to say what their version of a clean bill would look like. Again, Democrats only controlled 29 of the 60 seats in the house and, and, and 14 of the 30 seats in the Senate, they do have the Governor's Office. So we're, we're back down to the question of what does it take? You know, to, I, it almost feels like a used car salesman. What will it take to get you behind the wheel of this particular bill? That's where we are.

All right. Well, lots more to follow in the days to come. Howie, let me ask you about another bill coming up in a committee tomorrow dealing with a vehicle emission inspections. And this would basically say that if you have a vehicle manufactured after 2018, you would no longer have to get that vehicle tested for emissions.

FISCHER: Well, this is a variant of what already exists in state law. If you buy a new car today, if you buy a 2024 vehicle for the first five years, you don't have to have admissions tested with the assumption being based on what they know from historical testing that the vehicle will stay within compliance. And so the, the issue becomes, do you really need that? Now, there's a lot of belief that the newer vehicles are probably staying within compliance a longer period of time.

Now, that's all very nice to say. But at the point, your 2024 vehicle, it becomes 2034, 2044. You know, is it really in compliance? You know, I know it's a pain in the, you know what to go and stand in line. Have your vehicle tested and then have them say, well, you know, it didn't compliance and you got to go back, you gotta get it retuned up. But there's a reason for that, and the reason comes back to the Environmental Protection Agency and what the EPA is, is saying is very clearly, if you're gonna do anything that's gonna hurt air quality, particulates in particular, you have to get our approval.

So this bill says, oh, well, we're just gonna do it and maybe we will, maybe we won't ask for EPA approval. This is gonna be a real problem, I think with the governor.

Well, so let's, let's say that this passes and let's say the governor is OK with it. Does that mean a lawsuit could be pending?

FISCHER: Well, I think it's more the question of not a lawsuit. The question is, are we out of compliance with the EPA standards, and if we're out of compliance with EPA standards, then you've got a whole new set of problems. Certain federal funds are dependent on being EPA compliance. Certain building permits are dependent on being EPA compliant. So it's not a question of suing. It's a question of they're the federal government, they have the power and you know, we all live in their world.

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