'Extreme' Arizona Elections Bills Inching Closer to Law

The Arizona State Capitol.
The Arizona State Capitol. Sean Holstege
Several bills that could drastically change Arizona elections — restricting voting and removing thousands of voters from rolls — are slowly making their way toward Governor Doug Ducey’s desk.

Over the course of this year’s legislative session, Arizona lawmakers have flooded both Republican-controlled chambers with election proposals. After the furor around the 2020 election “audit” in Maricopa County, these bills are popular among a conservative electorate still fixated on election security.

Voting rights advocates have been sounding the alarm. Many of the most radical election-related bills have failed to pass or have stalled in committee. But others appear to have momentum, including one bill that could force tens of thousands to re-register to vote, which now sits on Ducey’s desk.

Advocates warn that these bills, if they become law, could harm voting rights in the state and, in some cases, have wide-ranging impact on elections.

“It’s a mess,” said Alex Gulotta, an attorney and the Arizona director of All Voting Is Local, a national group that advocates for voting rights. “We’re seeing a bunch of policies that are basically predicated on the same lies and conspiracy theories that got us to the sham election review in the first place.”

Low-income communities and communities of color would be disproportionately harmed by many of these, he said. When states pass additional documentation requirements for voter registration — like showing a photo ID — the elderly, poor, and minorities often struggle to meet that standard, research has shown.

Liz Avore, the vice president of law and policy at Voting Rights Lab, a nonpartisan group that tracks state legislation on voting across the country, said that Arizona is a key battleground for these issues.

Nationally, Avore said, lawmakers have focused on bills related to election administration. In Arizona, however, lawmakers have not given up on attempts to crack down on voters.

“Arizona is a bit of an outlier,” Avore said. “They are still introducing and moving bills that impact election administration and restrict election administration — but also voter access.”

In Arizona, the Voting Rights Lab tracker has highlighted 56 bills introduced this year that have the potential to restrict voter access or hamper election administration. That tops all other states currently being tracked by the organization — Georgia comes in second with 38 such bills, and Virginia is third with 37.

This tracker only includes states that convened for a normal legislative session this year, so certain states — including Texas — are excluded from the count.

In Arizona, here are five key election-related bills that have voting rights advocates worried — and are the closest to becoming law:

House Bill 2492: Requires proof of citizenship for voting; those who do not provide it will be investigated.

This bill, sponsored by Republican State Representative Jake Hoffman, who represents Queen Creek and Gilbert, is awaiting Ducey’s signature after passing both the House and the Senate on party-line votes.

It’s the first elections bill to be considered by the governor and has prompted an outcry from voting rights advocates.

The bill would require all voters to provide proof of citizenship and residence when registering to vote in most cases — and make it a felony offense if any election official registered a voter without such documentation.

According to state law, Arizona voters must already prove they are citizens in state elections. But that law does not extend to federal elections. And it is not always enforced.

Under HB 2492, in cases where a voter registered with a form provided by the federal government, avoiding Arizona’s proof of citizenship requirement, election officials would now be required to investigate the citizenship of each voter. They would have to use “all available resources” to do so.

If an official fails to investigate, he or she could also be charged with a class-six felony, the least serious designation.

The Arizona Attorney General would also be directed to investigate anyone who did not provide documentary proof of citizenship.

“This is actually a trend that we have seen this year,” Avore said of the bill. “We’ve seen nine states that have introduced this legislation related to citizenship requirement. It’s kind of remarkable, because these policies have been consistently found to be unconstitutional.”

In 2020, a federal appeals court struck down a similar Kansas law, which required voters to show a passport or birth certificate to prove their citizenship when registering. The court found that the measure placed a burden on voting that outweighed any concerns about voter fraud.

But, Avore said, that ruling didn’t stop states from trying their own hand at such legislation. A similar law in Mississippi has now passed both chambers and also appears destined for the governor’s desk.

Gulotta emphasized that if HB 2492 is implemented in Arizona, it could lead to tens of thousands of voters who have not provided proof of citizenship being kicked off the voter rolls, given provisions that prevent voters from participating in elections unless they have provided citizenship documents. “Every legal analyst I’ve talked to thinks they have to re-register,” he said.

Interest groups in support of the bill deny that, and some independent analysts say the bill is too vague to be sure. They say it's not clear if the requirement would retroactively apply to voters who registered decades ago, before proof of citizenship was required to obtain a driver's license, and thus for voter registration.

Hoffman, on his Telegram channel, called the legislation the “most important election integrity bill of the 2022 legislative session.” Arizona, he said, “cannot allow potentially tens of thousands of noncitizens to vote in our elections.” Years of research on the topic shows that, contrary to such claims, noncitizen voting is extremely rare.

A spokesperson for Ducey did not return questions from Phoenix New Times regarding HB 2492 or other bills in this story.

House Bill 2617: New requirements for monitoring voter rolls, investigating citizenship status.

This bill, authored by Republican State Representative Joseph Chaplik, would create new, onerous requirements for the Arizona Secretary of State and county recorders to investigate and purge their voter rolls. Chaplik represents Scottsdale and Fountain Hills.

County recorders would have to monitor drivers' licenses issued in other states and address changes monthly. If the county sees a voter change address outside the county or gets an out-of-state driver's license, authorities must cancel the registration within 90 days and notify the voter.

Furthermore, county recorders must proactively monitor federal vital records databases, along with other government databases to affirm the citizenship status of all registered voters.

“In general, if we have requirements to make sure that we’re keeping our lists up to date, that’s a good thing,” Gulotta said. But this bill goes far beyond that, he said. There were not enough cross-checks in place to make sure a voter was not wrongly removed from the rolls and forced to re-register — potentially disenfranchising voters without cause.

Maintenance of voter rolls is required by federal law in order to ensure such records are accurate. But the frequency — and extent — of voter roll purges is often the subject of debate. In 2018, a report by the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan policy research institute, called stricter purge requirements a "growing threat" to elections. It was common, researchers found, for states to use faulty data, and for eligible voters to be wrongfully removed from rolls.

Gulotta raised similar concerns about House Bill 2617. “The fact that someone has moved shouldn’t just kick you off the rolls,” he said.

This bill passed the House and now is working its way through committees in the Senate.

House Bill 2780: Publishes the name and address of each voter online.

Conceived by Republican State Representative John Kavanagh — with help, he claims, from audit liaison and former lawmaker Ken Bennett — HB 2780 would require county recorders to publish the names, addresses, and voting methods of each voter online after an election.

Kavanagh is a Republican representing the northeast stretches of metro Phoenix, including Scottsdale and Fountain Hills, like Chaplik. He has said the bill will bring “a little bit of sunshine” to the voter rolls, promoting trust in elections.

Ten days before an election, the bill says, county recorders must publish a list of every active and inactive voter on their voter rolls on their website. Social security numbers and birthdates of voters would be redacted, but addresses and names would remain. After the election, a list of each person who voted, as well as their method for voting, would be published.

Furthermore, images of every ballot cast in the election would be published online. No identifying information would be provided that could link ballots to voters.

Gulotta said this bill could put voters at risk, given that it could make their place of birth public, along with their names and addresses. This could invite targeting based on nationality, he said.

He also said publishing ballot images could lead to additional misinformation — instead of more transparency, as intended. “We’re making every person with a computer the Cyber Ninjas,” he said.

The general public, Gulotta explained, would not be able to replicate election results just by looking at ballot images. There are specific processes, for instance, that election workers use when a ballot is unclear or has stray marks.

“In the aim of more transparency, we’re going to put ballot images out there where people won’t be able to actually duplicate the results,” he said.

This bill has passed the House, 31-26, and the Senate Government Committee.

House Bill 2289: Ends early voting; requires ballots to be hand-counted.

Earlier in the session, Republican State Representative John Fillmore proposed ending all early voting in the state of Arizona and requiring all ballots to be counted by hand — within just 24 hours of Election Day.

This law was quickly quashed in the House. Speaker Russell "Rusty" Bowers sent it to a dozen committees, where it languished.

But Republican State Senator Kelly Townsend allowed Fillmore to introduce a strike-everything amendment in the Senate. This let him attach his proposal to a separate piece of legislation — without a House vote.

Now, the bill has passed out of committee and could see a Senate-wide vote.

House Bill 2289 would end all early voting in the state, outright. It would also require a hand count of ballots — instead of machine tabulation — and election workers would have to deliver those results within just 24 hours.

“It’s a pretty extreme piece of legislation,” said Avore. Not only did the bill seem infeasible, it is also an “unusual proposal,” she said.

Unlike many other states, Arizona has provided early voting for decades. In 1991, the state allowed any registered voter to vote by mail. In the years since, the state has introduced several measures to expand access to early voting. Now, most Arizona voters are on the early voting list.

“Persons with disabilities, persons who are working class, who may not be able to go vote on Election Day, rely on early voting and mail-in voting to participate in our democracy,” said Darrell Hill, policy director at the Arizona branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. “[The policy is] really tragic and wrong.”

Early voting is wildly popular in Arizona. In the 2020 election, nearly 90 percent of Arizona voters cast early ballots, at one of the highest rates in the country.

And, elsewhere in the country, states appear more open to the practice. “Almost all the action that we’re seeing on early voting is expanding it,” Avore said. This includes red states, like Oklahoma and Kentucky, that have seen similar pushes from lawmakers to restrict election administration or tighten election security.

Now that the bill has a second life in the Senate, it will just need to clear a vote in that chamber, then be ratified by the House. So far, it has passed the Senate government committee in a 4-3 party-line vote.

House Bill 2602: Ends emergency voting in most cases

Under State Representative Shawnna Bolick’s proposed legislation — which passed the Senate Rules Committee on Monday — most all emergency voting in the state of Arizona would be banned.

Some counties use emergency voting provisions to set up voting centers on the days directly preceding the election, allowing greater access for voters who are unavailable on the day of the election. Voters who use these centers have to attest they were not available to vote on Election Day, due to their situation.

But this law would prohibit any emergency voting save for times of war, natural disaster, or unrest that “substantially impaired” voters in “large numbers.”

The bill would also allow groups to electioneer and canvas at some polling sites — which is normally prohibited — and limit the ability of counties to restrict such activity.

Whether HB 2602 — or other bills that have been moving through Senate committees — will make it to Ducey's desk remains to be seen.

And a good number of lawmakers’ more extreme election bills have either stalled in committee or failed outright.

Multiple bills that created new misdemeanor or felony crimes have failed in the Senate. They included SB 1457, a bill by Republican State Senator Sonny Borrelli that made it a misdemeanor for an election official to allow tabulation equipment to be connected to the internet, and SB 1570, a Townsend bill that created new misdemeanors for election workers who violate new ballot security requirements.

“We saw this really emerge as a trend last year, and it’s picking up steam this year as well,” Avore said. Activities that were standard practice — like sending out absentee ballots to people who did not request one — could now result in jail time.

“It’s really treating the entire election system as if it’s a crime scene,” Avore said.

Still, as Gulotta noted, the session is not yet over. Many of these failed proposals could return in last-ditch efforts by lawmakers.

“It could be stuck today and end up in a striker tomorrow,” he said.
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Katya Schwenk is a staff writer for Phoenix New Times. Originally from Burlington, Vermont, she now covers issues ranging from policing to far-right politics here in Phoenix. She has worked as a breaking news correspondent in Rabat, Morocco, for Morocco World News, a government technology reporter for Scoop News Group in Washington, D.C., and a local reporter in Vermont for VTDigger. Her freelance work has been published in Business Insider, the Intercept, and the American Prospect, among other places.
Contact: Katya Schwenk