House passes bill for investigations of ballot signature mismatches

By: - June 21, 2021 5:50 pm
early ballot

Photo by Jim Small | Arizona Mirror

Prosecutorial agencies would have the opportunity to investigate possible voter fraud when county election officials can’t verify the signatures on early ballots, under legislation approved by House Republicans.

The House of Representatives on Monday approved an amendment to Senate Bill 1241 that would require county election officials to send information about mismatched signatures to county attorneys or the Attorney General’s Office for possible investigation. The bill passed on a party-line 31-29 vote.

Rep. John Kavanagh, who sponsored the amendment, called it a tool to combat possible voter fraud.

When a voter casts an early ballot, the option preferred by the overwhelming majority of Arizona voters, they sign their names on the envelopes they use to transmit their ballots to election officials. Election workers compare the signatures to the signatures on file for those voters to confirm their identities. If the signatures don’t match, they attempt to contact the voters to give them an opportunity to “cure” their ballots.

When signatures don’t match and election workers can’t reach the voters, they simply disregard the ballots and don’t count them. According to data from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, 1,894 ballots were rejected in the 2020 general election in Arizona because election workers were unable to verify the signatures.

Kavanagh said it’s concerning that no one follows up on ballots with signatures that can’t be verified. Most are probably from legitimate voters, he said, but some are certainly fraudulent. And no one in Arizona is investigating them, he said.

“That is almost the biggest yellow flag for voter fraud that I can think of — the signatures don’t match and you can’t contact the voter. There’s a chance there that that’s a fraudulent ballot. And that should be investigated,” said Kavanagh, a Republican from Fountain Hills. “It’s easy to claim there’s no fraud in early ballots if you never look for fraud, even when it may be staring you right in the face.”

Election officials in Arizona, where the majority of voters use early ballots, or states like Utah and Washington that exclusively use early ballots, say the system is extremely secure

However, early or mail-in voting became a major concern among many Republican voters last year after former President Donald Trump claimed such systems are highly insecure and subject to fraud. Trump and many supporters have made a number of baseless claims of fraud surrounding early ballots to justify his loss in the 2020 general election.

The Attorney General’s Office has only successfully prosecuted about 30 voter fraud cases since 2010, about two dozen of which were for double voting, when people cast ballots for the same election in different states. It’s unclear if authorities in Arizona have ever successfully prosecuted anyone for forging a signature on an early ballot affidavit.

Democrats said Kavanagh’s amendment seeks to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Rep. Pamela Powers-Hannley, D-Tucson, asked Kavanagh to describe the scope of the problem. He responded that he didn’t know because no one investigates when a mismatched signature can’t be verified.

House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix, said the legislation is based on conspiracy theories and the “Big Lie,” a term often used for the baseless claims that Trump and many of his supporters have made alleging without evidence that the 2020 general election was rigged. 

“This idea is simply predicated on one thing, which is to chase and continue to utilize this ‘Big Lie’ that, somehow, someplace, we have these fraudulent ballots that are changing the outcome of elections,” said Bolding, who is running for secretary of state. 

And several Democrats argued that it could be intimidating for voters who haven’t done anything wrong to get a call or even an in-person visit from the attorney general’s investigators. They said the bill would disproportionately affect people like train and flight crews who may be difficult for county election workers to reach, or people whose signatures have changed over time, such as people with conditions like Parkinson’s disease or those who registered to vote when they were only 18.

“I believe that is going to intimidate voters,” said Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley.

The House also passed Senate Bill 1083, which expands the narrow circumstances under which a recount can be held for an election. Current state law only requires a recount if the margin of victory is within one-tenth of 1% of the combined vote total of the top two candidates, or between 10 and 200 votes, depending on the race, whichever is less.

SB1083 would require a recount if the margin of victory is within one-half of 1% of the combined vote total. 

Had the proposal been law last year, there would have been a mandatory recount of the presidential race in Arizona, in which President Joe Biden defeated Trump by 10,457 votes, which is just over three-tenths of a percent of the two candidates’ vote total.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”