GOP bills to restrict some voter registrations clear Senate committee

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Senate Republicans on Monday advanced bills on voter registration that critics say will discourage some younger people — particularly college students — from registering to vote. 

On Monday afternoon, the Senate Government Committee considered bills from the lower chamber. One bill would ban same-day voter registration — something that doesn’t exist in Arizona. Instead, residents must fill out a registration form 29 days before an election occurs to be eligible to cast their votes in that election. Only 20 states and the District of Columbia allow same-day registration. 

The measure, House Bill 2237, is an attempt to preempt any future attempts to allow same-day registration. Of course, any future legislature that wished to enact same-day registration would simply be able to repeal the law banning it.

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Government Committee Chairwoman Kelly Townsend said banning same-day registration was needed to reduce fraud, something she speculated was already happening with provisional ballots. The Apache Junction Republican is an ardent proponent of the Big Lie, the false belief that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump by fraudulent voting. There is no evidence that Joe Biden won because of fraud, and a partisan review of the election in Maricopa County found no proof that the election results were inaccurate.

“If somebody were to vote who wasn’t registered and took a provisional ballot, are they able to circumvent the voter registration process?” she asked. 

Provisional ballots are given to voters who show up at the wrong polling place, or whose eligibility to vote is unclear because they can’t provide the proper identification. These ballots are kept separate from standard ballots until the end of the election, when determinations are made on whether or not to count it. 

Townsend said she had been told this was an easy way for fraudulent voters to bypass safeguards, but Jen Marson, the executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties, said that is entirely unfounded. Townsend’s committee staff explained to the panel that voters without proper ID at the polls may be given a provisional ballot, but would need to verify their ID later at a county recorder’s office. If they can’t do so, the ballot is thrown out. An incomplete or nonexistent voter registration would also warrant a rejected provisional ballot. 

The bill was passed by a narrow margin, 4-3 along party lines. Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, who had stepped outside the committee room, was ushered back into the room when the bill was up for a vote to ensure it passed. Shortly after the vote, he left again.

Also shepherded through the committee was House Bill 2243, which adds a statement to a voter registration form that notifies the registrant that, if they permanently move to another state, their registration will be canceled. It doesn’t specify what amount of time is considered permanent. 

Under current law, voter registration addresses are verified by May 1 in preparation for an upcoming general or primary election. If a voter has moved within the county, their registration is updated and a letter is sent to the voter requesting address verification. If a county recorder receives a written notice of address change outside of the county, then that registration is canceled. A person must be a resident of Arizona for at least 29 days before an election to be eligible to vote in it, and residency, for registration purposes, is defined as someone with a physical presence in the state or someone who has an intent to return to the state if they are temporarily absent. 

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, said the statement prevents lawsuits because voters must recognize and authorize the state’s right to remove them from the voter rolls if they move. 

“What this does is adds a statement to the voter registration form that simply says, ‘I as a voter that am choosing to register, if I move permanently out of state — yes, you have the ability to follow the existing law and remove me from the rolls,’” he said. 

Previously, House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding brought up concerns with the bill during a hearing in a House Government and Elections Committee on Jan. 26. He worried that it would affect college students attending out-of-state universities and seasonal workers. Rep. Lorenzo Sierra, D-Avondale, echoed Bolding at the same hearing, saying he was worried it would prevent his son from voting if he was accepted for a doctoral program out of state. 

“I fear he goes and he’s accepted into some school somewhere out of Arizona, comes back in November to cast his vote somewhere and isn’t allowed to because he got kicked off the rolls. And because we don’t have same-day voter registration, (he) isn’t allowed to vote,” he said. 

The bill hasn’t been amended since then, and was passed by the Senate Government Committee on Monday with a one-vote difference. Mesnard, with a phone tucked against his ear, was again summoned to the hearing room to vote, and he shouted his approval as he quickly cast his vote. Both bills move next to consideration by the full Senate, closer towards becoming law. 

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Gloria Gomez/UA Don Bolles Fellow
Gloria Gomez/UA Don Bolles Fellow

Gloria Gomez is a senior at the University of Arizona and the 2022 UA School of Journalism’s Don Bolles Fellow. Gomez has interned at the Arizona Daily Star and worked at the Arizona Daily Wildcat. She is a dual major in journalism and political science, with a Spanish minor. She’s a member of the Investigative Reporters and Editors and National Association of Hispanic Journalists. The UA School of Journalism started the fellowship in 1977 to honor Don Bolles, an Arizona Republic reporter killed in a 1976 car bombing.

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