Politics

Arizona G.O.P. Passes Law to Limit Distribution of Mail Ballots

PHOENIX — Arizona Republicans passed a law on Tuesday that will sharply limit the distribution of mail ballots through a widely popular early voting list, the latest measure in a conservative push to restrict voting across the country.

The legislation will remove voters from the state’s Permanent Early Voting List, which automatically sends some people ballots for each election, if they do not cast a ballot at least once every two years.

The vote-by-mail system is widely popular in Arizona, used by Republicans, Democrats and independents. The overwhelming majority of voters in the state cast their ballots by mail, with nearly 90 percent doing so last year amid the coronavirus pandemic, and nearly 75 percent of all voters are on the early voting list. Under the new law, the list will be called the Active Early Voting List.

The State Senate voted along party lines to approve the bill, and Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, surprised many observers by signing the legislation just hours later.

The bill may be only the first in a series of voting restrictions to be enacted in Arizona; another making its way through the Legislature would require voters on the early voting list to verify their signatures with an additional form of identification.

Unlike in other states where Republicans have passed voting restrictions this year, including Florida, Georgia and Texas, the Arizona Legislature did not create a sweeping omnibus bill made up of numerous voting provisions. Republicans in the state are instead introducing individual measures as bills in the Legislature.

The new law signed on Tuesday is likely to push an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 voters off the early voting list, which currently has about three million people. Opponents of the bill have said that Latinos, who make up roughly 24 percent of the state’s eligible voters, would make up a significantly larger share of those removed from the early voting list.

The G.O.P. voting restrictions being advanced throughout the country come as former President Donald J. Trump continues to perpetuate the lie that he won the election, with many Republican lawmakers citing baseless claims of election fraud, or their voters’ worries about election integrity, as justification for the stricter rules.

In Arizona, Republicans who supported the new law argued that it would not stop anyone from voting over all and that it would prevent voter fraud by ensuring no ballots are cast illegally, though there has been no evidence of widespread fraud in the state.

“In voting for this bill, it’s about restoring confidence for everyone who casts a ballot, no matter what their party is,” said State Senator Kelly Townsend, a Republican who briefly withheld her support for the bill because she wanted to wait for the completion of a widely disparaged audit ordered by the G.O.P.-controlled Senate. “I have been reassured and convinced it is OK to move forward because we are now looking at other issues that need to be fixed for the 2022 election.”

In his letter signing the legislation, Mr. Ducey said that the change would “free up dollars for election officials, ensuring that rather than sending a costly early ballot to a voter who has demonstrated they are not going to use it, resources can be directed to important priorities including voter education and election security measures.”

The vote came after an hour of debate on the Senate floor, with Democrats arguing that the bill was the latest in a long line of suppression efforts targeting Black and Latino voters.

“Making it harder to vote is voter suppression,” said State Senator Juan Mendez, a Democrat.

“Governor Ducey’s decision to sign this bill into law is a terrible blow to democracy,” Emily Kirkland, the executive director of Progress Arizona, a coalition of voting rights organizations and community groups, said in a statement. “It is a conscious effort to put barriers in the way of Arizonans trying to make their voices heard.”

For nearly a month, the state has been embroiled in an extraordinary Republican-led audit of 2020 presidential election ballots from Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix. The process could go on for several more weeks or even months.

Voting rights activists in Arizona are now likely to put more pressure on Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, both Democrats, to eliminate the filibuster in the Senate and open a path to passing the party’s federal legislation to protecting access to the ballot.

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