PHOENIX (CN) — Arizona House municipal oversight and elections committee Republicans pushed through four bills Wednesday evening that they say will improve election integrity, while Democrats opposed unanimously and accused Republicans of pushing false claims of election fraud.
Following four election bills voted through last week, these bills ranged from banning the use of ballot tabulation machines in favor of counting by hand, to opting for precinct-based voting to replace county-wide voting centers.
Republicans unanimously voted in favor, claiming more election security should be a no-brainer.
“I hope this does not become a partisan issue,” said Representative Cory McGarr, a Republican from Pima County who sponsored three out of the four bills.
Counting ballots by hand
Republicans say McGarr’s HB 2307, which would eliminate ballot tabulation machines and instead require counting the votes of the more than seven million Arizonans by hand, will reduce the likelihood that votes are intentionally counted incorrectly.
Representative Alexander Kolodin, a Republican from Scottsdale, argued that tabulation machines are easily hacked, and can be programmed to produce incorrect results.
But Jen Marson, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties, insisted that the machines are reliable. They’re tested for logic and accuracy both before and after the elections, she said, to ensure they worked the entire time.
She argued that machines are more accurate by nature.
“Humans make more mistakes than machines make,” she said.
Though, Marson conceded that county election officials can’t examine the machines’ code to protect against hacking after Representative Justin Heap, a Republican from Tucson, noted that the code is owned and controlled by third parties.
Aside from accuracy, Democrats questioned the efficacy of counting so many ballots by hand in a state that’s using tabulation machines since 1881.
Representative Laura Terech, a Democrat from Scottsdale, asked sponsor McGarr multiple times how the counting would work logistically, each to no avail.
“I’m not an election expert,” he said. “I can’t tell you what the perfect way is.”
Democrats say that’s because there is no way.
“This bill is unreasonable, unserious, and not only impracticable, it is impossible,” said Representative Oscar De Los Santos, a Democrat from Laveen. “When asked basic questions about this bill, the answers we get are ‘I’m not sure.’”
Also sponsored by McGarr, HB 2304 would limit voters to centers in their precinct rather than give them the option to vote in any voting center in their county.
De Los Santos, along with the rest of the Democrats, argued that keeping voting centers open to all members of a county “provides better access for working families,” to vote when and where they’re able. Multiple Arizonans who spoke in against the bill during the committee meeting told lawmakers that they work far from their voting precincts, so voting in other locations made more sense.
Jodi Liggett, representing the Arizona League of Women Voters, said her group heavily favors countywide voting centers.
“We think that they’re providing voters with voting in a convenient way,” she said.
Republicans blamed those voting centers for the largescale malfunction of voting equipment in the 2022 election.
“In my precinct, more than half the polling stations went down,” Heap said. “Those voters were disenfranchised. To defend voting centers as a flawless and wonderful system is an absolute anathema of the truth.”
He and other Republicans said that if all voters were assigned to a single precinct location, then ballots could be printed out ahead of time rather than as voters arrive, which would avoid printer malfunctions.
Marson countered that with countywide voting centers, if one center goes down, voters can find a new location to cast their vote, but in a precinct-based system, voters could only wait and hope the problem is resolved soon enough.
Signature verification challengers
HB 2305, also sponsored by McGarr, would allow representatives of the Republican and Democratic parties to observe all stages of the ballot signature verification process .
Representative Liz Harris, a Republican from District 13, added an amendment stipulating that if a ballot is challenged, it’s to be sent to a nonpartisan review board.
The committee discussed the bill after a presentation from Shelby Busch, chair of We The People AZ Alliance, a political action committee that promotes claims of election fraud. Her presentation claimed an audit by We the People AZ Alliance found that more than 47,000 ballots in the 2020 Maricopa County election didn’t meet the secretary of state’s signature verification guidelines.
Representative Alma Hernandez, a Democrat from Tucson, said Democrats weren’t told about the presentation until 2 hours prior to the meeting, leaving them without time to prepare counterarguments to the partisan group’s claims.
Kolodin said debating the bill is moot anyway, as Arizona law already allows Republicans and Democrats to observe signature verification and call out potential violations.
“The purpose of this bill is simply to clarify existing law,” he said.
Democrats complained that only giving representative to the two major political parties leaves out 33% of Arizona voters who identify as independent. Kolodin agreed, and said he’ll speak with McGarr about adding language to include independent voters.
Contesting election results
Harris’ HB 2233 aims to make it easier for failed candidates to bring election fraud lawsuits to court.
The bill would give courts 20 days after an election is certified to set a trial, rather than 10. Harris said that would ease the “impossible” task of preparing for a trial in such a short time.
It also stipulates that appeals to such lawsuits go straight to the Supreme Court, rather than the appeals court.
Finally, the bill would give parties a right to all discovery, including access to all physical ballots for the purpose of proving a case.
Heap said the reason election challenges haven’t held up in court is because parties aren’t entitled to discovery in the same way they are in any other case.
“Our courts aren’t set up to handle our election challenges,” he said. “If I can’t see the ballots, I can’t count them, then I’m gonna go to court and say ‘I don’t have any documents but this is what I think,’ and the court’s gonna say ‘You have no evidence.’”
Democrats held that making it easier to sue for election challenges will only encourage more frivolous claims.
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