Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday signed legislation purging infrequent voters from a list of those who automatically get a mail-in ballot each election.
The Republican governor acted hours after a tense debate in the state Senate, where Republicans hold just a single-vote edge.
The legislation is part of a wave of proposals to tighten election security that have passed in GOP-controlled states around the country. Florida just made all voters reapply for a mail ballot every two years.
The measure signed Tuesday would remove people who don’t return their mail-in ballot for two consecutive election cycles from the permanent early voting list, which allows voters to automatically receive a ballot before each election. About 75 percent of Arizona voters are on the list.
Affected voters would get a mailer asking if they want to remain on the list, and they would be removed if they don’t respond within 90 days.
Democrats argued the bill would perpetuate “systemic racism.”
“It makes me think you don’t like our voters,” Democratic state Sen. Juan Mendez of the Phoenix suburb of Tempe said to Republicans. “Because this whole thing looks like nothing more than a ruse to disenfranchise voters who you don’t like.”
Republicans said the measure is necessary to limit the number of unvoted ballots in circulation, noting that it would only affect voters who have shown disinterest in voting by mail.
“We need to leave this chamber ensuring our voters we have election integrity in the state of Arizona,” said Sen. Vince Leach, a Republican from Tucson.
Arizona’s action comes as Democrats and Republicans sparred in the U.S. Senate over a Democratic proposal that would overhaul federal elections and curtail recent actions by Republican state lawmakers to implement new voting rules nationwide.
Republicans are universally opposed to the reforms, calling them a Democratic power grab and federal overreach.
Contractors hired by Arizona Senate Republicans are still doing a hand recount of 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County as part of an audit of the November election in the nation’s fourth-largest county, which includes metro Phoenix.
Ducey certified Arizona’s 2020 election results, drawing derision from Trump, and has generally stood up for the integrity of the vote in his state. But he said there’s room for improvement.
He described the new legislation as a modest cost-saving improvement to an accessible voting system. Voters affected by the change will remain registered and can rejoin the early voting list, request a one-time mail ballot or vote in person, he said.
“Despite all the deceptive and heated rhetoric being used by some partisan activists to lobby against this reform, not a single Arizona voter will lose their right to vote as a result of this new law,” Ducey said in a video announcing his decision.
He blasted businesses that have inveighed against GOP voting laws in other states, and he urged them to “know what you’re talking about before you say anything” about the law he signed.
— Doug Ducey (@dougducey) May 11, 2021
Critics of Arizona’s law warned of economic backlash, noting that the Phoenix area is scheduled to host the 2023 Super Bowl and 2024 NCAA basketball Final Four. Major League Baseball pulled the All-Star Game from Atlanta after Georgia Republicans passed a voting law.
Michael Bidwill, owner of the Arizona Cardinals, was among more than 50 executives who signed a letter urging lawmakers to oppose the bill and others.
In Arizona, the GOP’s most far-reaching proposals have died, including measures allowing the Legislature to appoint its own Electoral College delegates.
One bill that remains in limbo would require an ID number, such as a driver’s license number, for a mail ballot to be counted.
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