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Democrats, GOP spar over Arizona elections calendar problem as Friday deadline looms

By Wayne Schutsky, Camryn Sanchez
Published: Monday, February 5, 2024 - 1:52pm
Updated: Wednesday, February 7, 2024 - 11:18am

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Laura Terech
Matty Steinkamp
Arizona Rep. Laura Terech speaking at a press conference at the Capitol on Feb. 5, 2024.

Arizona election officials say lawmakers need to act by the end of this week to fix deadline issues that could put ballots for overseas military personnel and the state’s presidential votes at risk — but Democrats and Republicans introduced competing plans today that are far apart on key issues.

An election recount law passed by the Arizona Legislature in 2022 is at the heart of the issue. It raised the margin of victory in elections that would spark a recount from one-tenth of 1% to one-half of 1%.

County officials warned that an increase in the number of mandatory recounts triggered by the law following the August primary election would not leave them with enough time to issue ballots to overseas military members — also called UOCAVA voters — by a federally-imposed deadline. There are different fears about the general election, when an influx of recounts could create delays that conflict with a new federal law that requires the state to certify its presidential electors by Dec. 11.

Democrats' proposal

Man in suit and tie sits
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Arizona state Rep. Alexander Kolodin in 2023.

The proposed fix from Democrats at the Arizona Legislature would partially roll back that 2022 recount law, lowering the margin of victory that would spark a recount to two-tenths of 1%.

The plan would also require the Secretary of State’s Office to notify the courts within 24 hours after its statewide vote count indicates a recount must take place. And it would allow county election officials — not just the secretary of state — to perform required accuracy tests on vote counting machines prior to recounts, and require those tests to take place within 48 hours of receiving a court’s recount order.

“And we’re hoping with that change, the counties will have the days that they need to get all the things that they need put together,” said Rep. Laura Terech (D-Phoenix), who sponsored the Democratic bill.

Republican plan

But Republicans are backing a very different bill that would keep the one-half of 1% threshold in place.

It would instead rely on a suite of election calendar changes supported by the counties that administer Arizona’s elections and also include other, unrelated, changes to elections procedures supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats — including the governor — in the past.

Rep. Alexander Kolodin (R-Scottsdale) is the sponsor of the GOP bill. His legislation would alter elections deadlines in certain places, shortening the deadlines for things like the “curing” period where voters are given the chance to correct minor errors in their ballots. Those cuts are intended to give the counties more time to complete a host of election-related tasks between the primary and general elections.

The bill also includes some other changes, including adding requirements onto elections officials performing signature verification on ballots.

Kolodin said elements of his bill are open to change, but one is not. He said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that as the bill’s sponsor, the signature verification element will only come out over his “dead body.”

End of the week deadline

Hobbs has said she, too, won’t budget when it comes to altering the signature verification process.

The governor vetoed a similar proposal sponsored by Kolodin last year. Her spokesperson, Christian Slater, said that the signature verification alterations are unrelated to the recount issue and that proposed changes to the curing period are also unacceptable because it “harms voters” unless they’re given more tools to cure ballots.

“She, in negotiation, has introduced compromises that could save us a few days around the cure period while also giving voters the tools they need to cure their ballot, and that has been rejected,” Slater said of Hobbs.

Hobbs issued a joint statement with Democratic Secretary of State Adrian Fontes in opposition to the GOP plan as it stands.

Kolodin said that his bill is at least supported by the counties, which Arizona Association of Counties Executive Director Jen Marson confirmed.

But neither proposal can cross the finish line without bipartisan support needed to pass with an emergency clause, a necessary measure to allow the fixes to go into effect immediately.

'Clean fix' vs. other elections changes

Terech, who sponsored the Democratic bill, said Democrats are open to changing the curing period “as long as we’re preserving voter access.” She also acknowledged that further compromise is needed in other areas if lawmakers hope to craft a bill that the governor will sign in the coming days.

“We have a clean fix; if they want to come onto ours, I think that would be fantastic, too,” Terech said. “But I also recognize the need to have further dialog.”

But time is running out.

The counties say the Legislature has until Friday, Feb. 9, to fix the issues to avoid causing further headaches for the officials who are preparing to hold upcoming elections.

“It is not time for politics; it is a time for a bipartisan solution that protects all Arizona voters,” Jack Sellers, chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, said in a statement.

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