Sat, Sept. 21

Legislators seek repeal of changes in voting laws

PHOENIX -- State lawmakers are moving to repeal major changes in voting laws made last year -- and then reenacting at least some of them in a way to thwart a referendum drive.

The proposal Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, comes after foes of those changes gathered enough signatures to put the measure on hold. And it will remain there until November when voters get to decide if they approve of what lawmakers have done.

HB 2196 would repeal the law, making the November vote unnecessary.

But it's not that simple.

Farnsworth said he still believes some of the provisions of last year's law are necessary, notably one that allows counties to remove people from the permanent early voter list. So he wants to reenact that.

And he acknowledged that other legislators may have pieces of that law they want to readopt.

But reenacting all or part of the law would force foes to launch an entirely new referendum drive, starting from scratch to get the signatures they need to give voters the last word.

"We think that it a cynical attempt to try to get around our referendum,' said Robbie Sherwood, spokesman for the coalition that forced last year's bill to a public vote. "We won't take that lying down.'

The original measure, pushed through the Republican-controlled Legislature in the last hours of the session, would:

- sharply boost signature requirements for minor parties to get their legislative and congressional candidates on the ballot;

- limit who can take someone's early ballot to a polling place;

- impose stricter requirements on citizen groups sponsoring initiatives;

- set up procedures to stop sending early ballots to voters who have not used them.

A coalition of organizations gathered 146,000 signatures on petitions to force a public vote. The Secretary of State's Office found about 111,000 of them valid, far more than the 86,405 necessary.

Farnsworth's measure would make that effort moot, as that law would go away.

But Farnsworth said he wants to try again to make the "permanent early voting list' a little less permanent.

Individuals who sign up on that list are automatically mailed ballots prior to every election. Voters can mark them and mail them back or take them to a polling place.

Farnsworth said he believes that list is clogged with people who aren't interested in voting early -- or perhaps may even have moved or are dead. He said that costs money for taxpayers who have to mail items to everyone on the list as well as candidates sending their own campaign materials.

That's only partly true.

The change Farnsworth wants reenacted would allow removal of people from the early voting list if they have not used their early ballots for two election cycles, choosing to vote in person instead, and then did not respond to a postcard from the Secretary of State. Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne there are separate procedures to "scrub' the voting rolls of people who have not voted at all, perhaps because they moved or died.

Farnsworth said he's not looking to readopt other parts of last year's law.

"There's no concerted, nefarious attempt to try to circumvent what somebody might believe,' he said.

But Farnsworth said he cannot guarantee that other legislators won't use repeal of the law -- and voiding of the referendum drive -- as a chance to enact it, again.

Sherwood said lawmakers should back off.

"We think the voters have earned the right to vote on this bill,' he said. "We don't think the Legislature should be messing with it in this session.'

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