PHOENIX -- The debate Tuesday night for who should be the state's chief election officer turned into a televised spat over religious discrimination.
Republican Michele Reagan found herself on the defensive for voting earlier this year for SB 1062. The measure would have allowed owners of businesses to cite their sincerely held religious beliefs as justification for refusing to provide service to some.
It was eventually vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer as unnecessary -- and after some lawmakers of both parties who had voted for it had second thoughts. That includes Reagan.
"Bad vote,' she conceded during a debate Tuesday night at KAET-TV. Reagan said in her 12 years in the Legislature she probably cast 10,000 votes.
"So I would say it's probably a little inappropriate and I would say a little unfair to go through and to cherry pick,' she said.
Anyway, she said, that vote is irrelevant to the job she now wants. She said in SB 1062 would not have impaired the right of people to vote, a key duty of the office she wants.
But Democrat Terry Goddard said her vote should matter to those who want the secretary of state to run elections in the most open manner.
"I think we know from experience in the Deep South in the civil rights era that access to a lunch counter and access to an equal seat on the bus and voting rights are all tied up in the same package,' he said. "So you can't say somebody doesn't get a full set of equal rights in one area and then say it's OK for voting.'
And Goddard rejected questions from host Ted Simons that legislation about religious freedom is unrelated to voting rights.
"If the secretary of state is not making it clear to all the citizens of Arizona that they're going to be absolutely fair in the execution of the voting laws, that every vote is counted and every individual is equal, the message that goes out is going to have what we have today, which is a rapidly decelerating number of people participating,' Goddard said.
Reagan shot back that the only message voters are getting from debating now her vote on SB 1062 is that Goddard wants to make the election "hyper partisan.'
"The message is, let's take one vote, two votes, three votes -- you can go through the 10,000 votes and find a couple -- and lets blow them up and try to make people angry,' saying those moves were designed solely to "upset people.'
"That's the kind of stuff that turns people off from politics, from public policy, from government, the exact opposite of what a secretary of state or secretary of state candidate should be doing,' Reagan said.
Goddard's retort to the charge of being hyper partisan was that, in the end, the opposition to SB 1062 was bipartisan.
On the subject of boosting voter turnout, Reagan said she plans outreach ranging from an advocate to educate voters around the state to setting up kiosks in high schools to make it easier for students turning 18 to register to vote.
Goddard focused on removing what he said are impediments thrown in the path of those not registered with any recognized party.
He said independent candidates have to get 33,000 signatures to run for statewide office; a Republican or Democrat needs around 7,000. And independent voters, who now outnumber Republicans and Democrats, must make a request before every primary election for an early ballot; party registrants who have signed up for these need do nothing more.
Each also claimed to be qualified to be governor if it comes to that, as the secretary of state is first in line if the chief executive quits, dies or is impeached and convicted.
Reagan cited her experience as a legislator and working at a family business. Goddard countered with his election as Phoenix mayor in the 1980s and as state attorney general from 2002 to 2010.
Follow Howard Fischer on Twitter at @azcapmedia.