A bill moving through the Arizona Legislature would make it a felony to take someone else’s early ballot to a polling place or an elections office.
The House Elections Committee approved the bill, known as HB 2023, on a 4-2 party-line vote this week. Republicans voted in support and Democrats opposed it. The bill now heads to the House Rules Committee. If it's approved there, it'll go before the full House of Representatives for a vote.
Under the bill introduced by state Representative Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale), only family members, roommates, caregivers, postal workers, and election officials can turn in early ballots on behalf of voters. Anyone else who doesn’t fall under the categories would be charged with a Class-6 felony and could spend up to a year in prison and be fined up to $150,000.
This means that voter-outreach groups, such as Mi Familia Vota, would be prohibited from sending out volunteers to collect and turn in early ballots for other people.
Raquel Teran, Mi Familia Vota's Arizona director, said she’s disappointed that this issue is under consideration once again. She noted that the Legislature approved a similar bill in 2013 but then repealed it after opponents gathered more than 146,000 signatures from voters to put the bill on the ballot for a statewide vote. The state Legislature repealed it before the vote could take place.
“We are disappointed...because we know that voters don’t support this type of legislation,” Teran said.
Before voting, the House Elections Committee heard testimony from both sides for more than two hours Monday afternoon. Supporters said the bill is necessary to protect the integrity of the election system while opponents said it aims to suppress voters.
Several of the bill's supporters told stories of voters who had individuals pretending to be election officials come to their doors and told them they had to turn in their early ballots to them.
Among them was Sergio Arellano, president of the Arizona Latino Republican Association's Tucson chapter, who claimed that an elderly Hispanic woman from Tucson had told him that an individual came to her house and pressured her into voting for candidates she didn’t know and then took her early ballot.
Democrats on the committee pressed for concrete evidence — instead of hearsay from the likes of Arellano — to prove that “ballot harve sting” has occurred.
Representative J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler) said it’s irrelevant whether voter fraud has occurred through the collection of early ballots. What is more important, he said, is that many people believe it is occurring.
“That alone means that people question the integrity of our election system, and you cannot have that if you want a system where people are actively engaging and participating in the civic process,” he argued.
Mesnard also said the vast majority of voter-outreach groups may indeed be trying to do a public service by collecting and turning in ballots for voters.
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“I’m not questioning their motive,” he said. “But in the interest of ensuring that there isn’t something fraudulent happening, I think this bill makes sense.”
But Samantha Ptross, representing the Arizona Advocacy Network, said it doesn’t make sense to take away people’s right to decide who they want to turn in their early ballots. She noted that in 2014, a friend asked her to take her early ballot to a polling place because she wasn’t going to have time to do it herself.
“Under HB 2023, I would be considered a felon for doing that,” she said. “I would get up to a year in jail. I would have to pay a $150,000 fine, and my friend would be considered to be aiding and abetting a felon. That’s ridiculous!”