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Lege Council: Early voting list purge bill wouldn’t affect voters until after 2024 election

By: - May 5, 2021 4:17 pm

Photo by Jim Small | Arizona Mirror

A contentious bill that would remove inactive voters from the list of people who automatically receive early ballots in the mail isn’t retroactive and won’t affect voters for several years, according to legislative staff.

Under Senate Bill 1485, if Arizonans who are signed up for Arizona’s Permanent Early Voting List don’t cast their early ballots for two consecutive election cycles, they’ll receive a notice asking them if they want to remain on the list. Those who don’t respond will be purged from the list, though they’ll still be registered to vote.

Critics of the bill have estimated how many voters it would affect based on the number of people on the PEVL who didn’t vote in 2018 or 2020. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ office estimated that 150,000 to 200,000 people could be removed from the list, which would be renamed Active Early Voting List. Democratic operative Sam Almy believes the number would be about 216,000.

However, the Legislative Council said the bill won’t be retroactive. Were the bill to pass this year and go into effect before next year’s election, voters wouldn’t be eligible for removal from the list unless they failed to use their early ballots in the 2022 and 2024 election cycles. County election officials would have to inform voters that they’re in danger of being removed from the list by Jan. 15, 2025, and they’ll have 90 days to respond.

That analysis came at the request of Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who shared the Legislative Council memo on Twitter on Tuesday. The analysis, which she requested, states that because the bill doesn’t contain a retroactivity clause, courts would likely reject any attempt to apply it based on past elections.

“They affirmed I was correct and that this bill is not retroactive and would need 2 full election cycles to show effect,” Townsend wrote on Twitter, saying the first election cycle affected by SB1485 wouldn’t be until 2026.

Townsend stunned the Senate last month when she voted against SB1485, depriving it of the 16th vote it needed to pass. She said she supports the bill — she’d already voted for it twice this legislative session — but didn’t want to pass any election integrity bills until after the Senate concludes an audit and recount of the 2020 general election in Maricopa County. 

She said she wanted to ensure that the legislature can be in session to immediately address any problems uncovered by the audit so that the new laws will be in effect for the 2022 election, and told the conservative news outlet Breitbart in a recent interview that she wants to deal with next year’s election before worrying about issues that won’t matter until 2026. Townsend later told the Yellow Sheet Report, a subscription-only political tip sheet, that she expects the legislature to be in session through late May or early June, but that it may be unreasonable to expect lawmakers to stay at the Capitol until the audit is finished.

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, the bill’s sponsor, accused Townsend of voting against SB1485 in retaliation for several election bills that she killed as chair of the Senate Government Committee. Townsend acknowledged that she was upset about her bills, but denied that she voted against Ugenti-Rita’s legislation for that reason.

Townsend tweeted the Legislative Council memo in response to a tweet by the conservative advocacy group Arizona Free Enterprise Club, which alleged that she “provided significantly incorrect information while explaining the legislation” in a recent interview. The Arizona Free Enterprise Club linked to an article on its website accusing Townsend of falsely telling Breitbart that the bill would not apply to voters until the 2026 election cycle. 

The article stated that SB1485 will allow county recorders to begin removing voters from the early voting list for the 2022 election. The legislation states that recorders must send notices to inactive voters by Jan. 15 of odd-numbered years after elections.

Ugenti-Rita, a Scottsdale Republican, said her understanding has always been that the bill would apply prospectively. She ran a similar bill in 2019.

“When you do election law, it’s important that you set the stage for what changes are going to be implemented and make sure the public understands those changes. So looking prospectively allows the public to familiarize themselves with the change and then act accordingly,” Ugenti-Rita said.

Ugenti-Rita accused Townsend of using the lack of retroactivity as an excuse for opposing the bill. She noted that, between SB1485 and the 2019 version, Townsend has voted for the bill four times.

Given the unanimous opposition of legislative Democrats, who view SB1485 as a voter suppression bill, the legislation can’t pass without Townsend’s support. Republicans have a 16-14 majority in the chamber, meaning they can’t lose a single GOP vote on a bill that doesn’t have Democratic support. Townsend did not respond to a request for comment from the Arizona Mirror.

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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.”