Arizona House Republicans advance 2 election bills

Maricopa County elections officials count ballots, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, at the Maricopa County Recorders Office in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Arizona House Republicans on Monday advanced a measure requiring election officials to give prosecutors records of mail ballots that get rejected because the signature doesn’t match the one on file.

Republicans said the measure would help find potential criminals trying to illegally cast ballots. But Democrats said there’s no evidence of widespread fraud, and the measure would promote the myth that the 2020 election was marred by illegal votes.

“The assumption is going to be made that you were fraudulently casting that ballot and the attorney general is going to get involved,” said Rep. Kelli Butler, a Democrat from Paradise Valley. “I believe that’s going to intimidate voters. I can’t imagine having a knock on my door from law enforcement related to my vote.”

Mail voting accounts for the overwhelming majority of ballots cast in Arizona. County officials verify they’re valid by matching a signature on the ballot envelope to those on file from voter registration forms, driver’s license records, and previous elections. If the signature seems off, officials work to contact the voter, who has five days after the election to resolve the issue. Ballots not resolved are not counted.

The measure, SB1241, would require county election officials to give a variety of information from those ballots to the county attorney or attorney general, including the signatures from the ballot envelope and those on file, and the voter’s contact information.

Democrats said the vast majority of signature mismatches are innocuous, and the bill would lead to the intimidation of voters questioned by criminal investigators. They said it would have an especially big impact on older voters, those with health conditions or disabilities that limit their motor skills, and younger voters who haven’t yet solidified their signature.

Republican Rep. John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills said it’s impossible to know for certain whether there’s a problem with mismatched signatures.

“We don’t know what the scope of the problem is because right now nobody investigates potentially fraudulent ballots,” Kavanagh said.

Meanwhile, House Republicans also voted to raise the threshold for an automatic recount of an election to 0.5 percentage points. Under the current standard, recalls are triggered for most statewide races when the margin is fewer than 200 votes.

Both measures still need approval in the Senate.

Republished with the permission of the Associated Press.