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Arizona governor signs law to remove some voters from early voting list

Arizona is getting rid of its permanent early voting list and removing some voters from that list, as a result of the new law signed by Republican Governor Doug Ducey on Tuesday. 

The state Senate passed the bill, SB 1485, earlier in the day.

Under the old law, voters on the permanent list automatically received a mail ballot for every election. The new law changes the name of the "permanent early voting list" to "active early voting list" and will remove voters from the list if they do not vote early at least once in a primary, general or municipal election during two consecutive election cycles. Election officials are to send voters a notice that they are going to be removed from the list, and voters will have 90 days to respond if they would like to remain on the list. It does not prevent people from voting in person and the voter remains registered. 

"This change will ensure that active voters continue to receive a ballot," Ducey said in a video statement. He added that the bill is all about "election integrity" and is part of the "continuous change and improvements that have made our elections safer, more responsive and better for our citizens."

Arizona Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs opposed the bill. She noted in a letter to Ducey in April that Arizona already has a process for removing inactive voters from the list. The changes "aren't just unnecessary - they're detrimental to voters," she wrote. 

The bill passed 16-14 along party lines. It was initially held up in April when GOP Senator Kelly Townsend said she was not going to vote on any election bills until after an audit of the 2020 election in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, was finished. The audit was ordered by the GOP-controlled Senate and election experts have raised concerns about how it is being conducted. 

Townsend reversed her position and backed the measure on Tuesday, even though the audit is not finished. She said she was told that lawmakers would examine other changes to election laws before the session ends. 

"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," Townsend said, according to the Arizona Republic.

Republicans argued that the bill will help maintain the state's voter rolls to ensure the list of voters who automatically receive a mail ballot is accurate and raised concerns that unvoted ballots could be at risk for fraud. 

Democrats have said it's an effort to prevent voters from obtaining mail ballots automatically. Arizona Senate Democrats said in a statement the bill would "purge over 120,000 eligible Arizonans" from the list. 

"The true intent of this bill is undeniable and that is to suppress the votes of low-income, Black, Latino and Native American voters," Senate Democrats said. The Navajo Nation opposed SB 1485. 

Townsend recently posted an assessment from the Arizona Legislative Council that said the bill does not apply retroactively to elections held before it was passed. That means four years would need to pass before voters would start to be removed from the list. 

Arizona has had mail voting in place since 1991 and it has been regularly used by voters in the state. In 2016, when former President Trump won the state by about 91,000 votes, about 76% cast their ballot early or by mail, according to data from the Arizona secretary of state's office. In 2020, when President Biden won the state by about 11,000 votes, about 88% voted early or by mail.

Republicans in Arizona passed SB 1485 as GOP-controlled state legislatures around the country have been pushing to amend their voting laws. Lawmakers in Iowa, Florida and Georgia are among those who passed sweeping election bills. Republicans in Texas advanced a bill last week that would change the state's voting laws.

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