PHOENIX — It's being billed as a method to get more rapid election results.
But a measure awaiting Senate debate would strip people who get early ballots in the mail of the option to hang on to them until the last minute and then simply drop them off at a polling place on Election Day.
Strictly speaking, SB 1135 would not disenfranchise them.
What it would do is require they stand in line, surrender the early ballot, produce identification and then wait their turn to fill in the ballot again.
No ID? Go home and get it if you want that new ballot to be counted.
The measure is being pushed by Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills. He said that early ballots dropped off at polling places can't be counted until after all other ballots are tallied. And that, said Kavanagh, slows up results.
Anyway, Kavanagh said, if people want the convenience of early ballots they still have the option of mailing them back – so long as they arrive at county offices by 7 p.m. on Election Day.
But there's something else at play.
Many Republicans contend that early balloting is subject to fraud. And even Kavanagh, in pushing this legislation, sketched out a scenario where his early ballot might be stolen by "an election fraudster" who picked it up while repairing his air conditioning.
And foes of early voting are unconvinced by requirements that county election officials compare the signature on the envelope with others already on file.
"That is unreliable," Kavanagh said.
Only thing is, efforts to outlaw early voting entirely have not gained traction at the Legislature, at least in part because nearly 90% of Arizonans like that option. And lawsuits by the Arizona Republican Party to have the process declared illegal have faltered.
What SB 1135 would do, however, is give foes a partial victory by reducing the number of early ballots cast.
If lawmakers approve, it would end an option used by hundreds of thousands of Arizonans who get early ballots but want to wait until the last possible minute to vote. And it's not a partisan thing: Even former Gov. Doug Ducey showed up at his polling place on Election Day this past year with his early ballot already sealed in its envelope.
At least part of the issue comes down to the question of convenience versus speedy returns.
This past election more than 290,000 residents of Maricopa County alone decided not to put their early ballots in the mail or place them in drop boxes, deciding instead to take them directly to polling places.
Some of that was due to exhortations by Kelli Ward, then the chair of the Arizona Republican Party, that people should "wait in line and vote in person." That plugged into claims by Donald Trump and others that early voting was inherently insecure and subject to fraud.
But early ballots brought to polling places are not counted until after those which are voted in person are tallied. And that delay in final tallies for more than a week only added fuel to claims – still being pursued by some unsuccessful GOP candidates – that there was something amiss in the process.
What Kavanagh wants to do is effectively eliminate those same-day drop-offs of early ballots.
People could still show up at polling places with those early ballots. But then the ballots would be "spoiled" – made uncountable – with the voter handed a new ballot after presenting the same identification already required of those who go to the polls now.
Sen. Priya Sundareshan, D-Tucson, said she's not sure the change is appropriate.
"It would be taking away the option that many people currently understand is a way to quickly get your ballot dropped off on the day of the election," she said.
Kavanagh, however, disputes the idea that early ballots are meant to be dropped off.
"Early ballots come with a return envelope," he said.
"It's clear that the purpose of the early ballot is to give people the convenience of not having to go into a polling place," Kavanagh said. "When you take the early ballot option and instead show up on Election Day you're simply slowing down the election and causing more work at the polling place, which further slows down the actions of other people who are there."
He said people need to decide whether they want to vote early or vote on Election Day.
"You can't have it both ways," Kavanagh said. "It's causing confusion at the polls and it's slowing election results."
Sundareshan wasn't buying the argument that those "late-early ballots" were gumming up the works at polling places.
"You walk in with that early ballot in the envelope as signed and you simply drop it off," she said. "There is no standing in line as would now need to occur" under Kavanagh's plan," Sundareshan continued. "You would have to spoil it, have to provide ID, have to then vote a standard ballot."
Kavanagh said she is missing the point.
"The main logjam is election results," he said.
"We waited for days with elections being undetermined," Kavanagh said. "And people don't want that."
What was not discussed, however, is there are those who, despite getting an early ballot by mail, purposely wait until the last minute – and not just to see whether there is any late-breaking news about a candidate.
In the 2016 Republican presidential preference primary, Marco Rubio dropped out a week before Election Day. That left Rubio supporters who voted early out of luck as there is no way to recall and re-vote those mail-in early ballots.
That still leaves the fact that Kavanagh crafted 1135 in a way to require those who now show up with early ballots in signed, sealed envelopes would not just have to exchange them for regular ballots but also to produce identification. That is not now required of those who simply drop off their early ballots.
Kavanagh made it clear that, issues of delayed election results aside, he doesn't like that voters can do that.
"If you don't have ID, we don't even know if that's your early ballot," he said. "How do I know you didn't find that early ballot on the street or you stole it from a friend's house?"
"Why would I have your ballot?" asked Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe.
"Because you're an election fraudster," Kavanagh responded. "You stole it from my house when you were repairing my air conditioner."
Mendez, however, said that's no different than the current situation where people who sign a request can get an early ballot in the mail once county election officials determine they are eligible to vote. And regardless of whether it is mailed back or dropped off, that ballot is not counted until those same county election officials compare the signature on the envelope with others from the voter they have on file.
"That is unreliable," Kavanagh said.
"I can go on the county recorder's site and pull up documents that you've signed, related to all sort of things, often real estate, with your signature all over the place," he said. "And I can easily copy your signature if I want to."
Mendez said that shows what he believes is Kavanagh's real intent with SB 1135.
"So this whole bill is from the idea that someone's going to rob you of your ballot and go try to drop it off?" he asked.
Kavanagh, however, said the idea is that requiring people to exchange their early ballot for a regular ballot – and presenting ID – means the ballot can be tabulated at the same time as everyone else's.
"If you didn't turn your early ballot in in time to put it in the mail and you show up in a polling place, vote like everybody else," he said.
"Vote the regular way so we can tabulate your ballot immediately," Kavanagh said. "Don't have it go into a box and then, two, three days later, we still don't know who won the election."
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