An election ballot drop box is shown outside Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center in downtown Phoenix on Sept. 25, 2020. Photo by Brandon Quester | AZCIR
Two Republican senators joined Democrats to kill a GOP proposal that would have banned the use of “unmonitored” ballot drop boxes.
Sens. Paul Boyer and Michelle Ugenti-Rita both voted against House Bill 2238, but for vastly different reasons.
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Boyer has killed a number of Republican-backed bills to dramatically change election law, including proposals making it more difficult to vote, that are being pushed under the guise of election integrity but stem directly from false claims of widespread election fraud in 2020.
But Ugenti-Rita’s opposition to HB2238 was because she would rather ban ballot drop boxes outright. She tried to amend the bill to ban the use of all drop boxes in Arizona, but the amendment was rejected: The change wasn’t cleared with the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jake Hoffman, and only eight Republicans voted for it.
Ugenti-Rita said she would not support the bill without her amendment because the bill “codifies” ballot drop boxes into statute when they are only currently mentioned in the Elections Procedure Manual.
“If the goal is to restore confidence in the outcome of an election, then you ban what you think facilitates the manipulation. You don’t capture it on video,” she said while explaining her amendment. “Once you codify this, you’re going to make it the status quo that we now use ballot boxes. Do you understand the whole point is we think it facilitates fraud? And now we’re going to codify it? I wish we would just pause and stop being so reactionary and think about real, authentic solutions.”
Ugenti-Rita is running for Arizona secretary of state, though her campaign appears to be floundering.
Gilbert Republican Sen. Warren Petersen was one of several senators who claimed Hoffman’s original intent was to ban drop boxes like Ugenti-Rita was suggesting, but that doing so could not receive the 31 votes needed to pass the House of Representatives.
Ugenti-Rita did not buy that explanation and said the public deserves “a real solution.”
“Not fake solutions pretending to be one,” she said. “The fact that it may not get out of the House is not a good enough reason.”
Once you codify this, you're going to make it the status quo that we now use ballot boxes. Do you understand the whole point is we think it facilitates fraud? And now we're going to codify it? I wish we would just pause and stop being so reactionary and think about real, authentic solutions.
– Sen. Michell Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale
Republicans have questioned the purpose of ballot drop boxes when U.S. Postal Service mailboxes already exist for people to drop off their early ballots. The drop boxes exist because the ones that belong to the respective county election department “doesn’t have the intermediary of a postal employee and the post office; it is picked up directly by bi-partisan team of election workers,” Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer on Twitter.
The drop boxes also save taxpayers money, since every ballot that is dropped off doesn’t cost postage fees. (The cost to return ballots via the mail is paid by county elections officials.) Additionally, voters can drop ballots into drop boxes as late as Election Day, while the deadline for putting ballots in a mailbox is a week earlier to ensure they arrive at the elections department by Election Day.
Ugenti-Rita said those reasons didn’t move her: She claimed that the 80-90% of Arizona voters who vote with early ballots can return them in the mail, vote early in-person or instead vote at a polling place on Election Day.
Boyer said his opposition to the bill was procedural: He said the bill would cost money, and it was his understanding that bills with an appropriation would not move through the process until budget talks gained more steam.
“I don’t know if we are moving money bills these days. I have a few bills on the money bill list that are still stuck in (the House of Representatives) that aren’t getting an up or down vote,” he said.
Boyer also opposed another election bill Monday. That one, sponsored by GOP Rep. Shawnna Bolick, sought to ban emergency voting centers except in cases of war, civil unrest or natural disasters.
The measure, House Bill 2602, comes in response to emergency voting centers that were used in 2020 due to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Bolick is also running for secretary of state.
The two failed election bills, and at least one other that failed on the floor Monday, highlight an ongoing pattern in the Senate of Republican leaders allowing votes on bills that don’t have enough support to pass. So far, the Senate alone watched 39 bills die on the floor – some may have been reconsidered – which is the most in that chamber since 41 bills died under Senate President Ken Bennett in 2006. The current record is 66 under Senate President Brenda Burns in 1998.
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