by Jim Nintzel
Bethany Barnes of Arizona-Sonora News Service reports on a bill that would criminalize get-out-the-vote efforts that collect early ballots and turn them in at the polls on Election Day:
Turning in your neighbor’s early ballot for them could get you some jail time if Senate Bill 1003 goes anywhere, though you’d be unlikely to raise any poll workers’ eyebrows unless you offered to bring in all of your neighbors’ ballots.
SB 1003, sponsored by Michele Reagan (R-LD 23), passed through the Senate Elections Committee on Tuesday. The bill would make it a class 5 felony to return an early ballot for someone who isn’t a close relation or housemate.
The bill is targeted at people showing up at the polls with massive amounts of ballots, but volunteers from organizations, like the Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, argued that the bill would hurt their efforts to educate and increase turnout from minority and elderly voters.
Volunteers testified that they gain the trust of those who don’t trust the mail, remind the forgetful, and energize the apathetic.
Sometimes this means fishing ballots out of trashcans and scraping salsa off them, one woman testified.
If the bill passes, polls wouldn’t be filled with early ballot interrogators, according to election officials. They’d just question someone waltzing in with an armload of ballots.
Election officials said the issue is that they need early ballots in as soon as possible to get results out in a timely manner. In other words, they don’t want volunteers hoarding ballots until Election Day.
“They can’t sit on them if they can’t pick them up,” pointed out Karen Osborne Maricopa County Elections Director.
Sen. Katie Hobbs (D-LD-24) noted that while the intent isn’t to lock up trusted people who don’t meet the bill’s specifications, that is what the bill does. Hobbs suggested crafting something that specifically went after those hauling in heaps of ballots.
Sen. Steve Gallardo (D-LD-29) said voters should have the right to entrust their ballot to who ever they choose.
Reagan challenged Sen. Gallardo to use his voice productively and help craft an amendment he thinks would help alleviate some of the concerns. She said she didn’t expect this issue to be so divisive and noted that she volunteers as well, but doesn’t take ballots.
“I do not collect a laundry basket full of ballots and think it’s OK to walk it into a polling place. Something as sacred as somebody’s vote,” Reagan said, “and I was shocked that this was allowed in our state.”
DJ Quinlan, the acting Executive Director of the Arizona Democratic Party, condemned the bill in statement to the press:
Republican State Senators have taken the first step towards making the sacred right of voting more difficult in Arizona. This unwanted and unnecessary bill will add obstacles to voters who choose to receive an early ballot by mail. By limiting the voter’s ability to have a friend, colleague, or community organization turn in his/her ballot, SB 1003 will make voting in Arizona more difficult.
In particular we believe that this bill will disproportionately affect communities that are protected under Section Five of the Voting Rights Act.
SB 1003 will also cast an unwarranted shroud of suspicion over the dozens of civic-minded organizations and individuals who assist voters in turning in their mail-in ballots to election officials. SB 1003 would make this basic act of community service a class 5 felony.
It is clear that SB 1003 will not only make voting more difficult in Arizona, but by criminalizing basic acts of community service, it could have a chilling effect on our democratic process. We believe this bill is retrogressive, and we will vigorously oppose it at all levels including the preclearance process at the Department of Justice.