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Arizona Gov. Ducey signs new law that will purge infrequent mail voters from state's ballot list

Democrats and advocates say the bill is discriminatory and will make voting harder.
A man leaves a polling station at the Benson School District Board Room in Benson, Ariz., on November 3, 2020.Ariana Drehsler / AFP via Getty Images file

Arizona will periodically remove infrequent mail voters from the state's ballot list after Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation passed on Tuesday despite protests from Democrats and advocates who say the law is discriminatory and will make voting harder.

"This bill is simple, it's all about election integrity," Ducey said in a video posted to Twitter.

Senate Bill 1485 passed its final Senate vote 16-14, along party lines on Tuesday afternoon. It was signed almost immediately. The bill remove infrequent voters from the state’s Permanent Early Voting List, turning it into an “active” early voting list.

Arizona is the latest state to pass a restrictive voting law in the wake of the 2020 election. Last week, Ducey also signed a bill limiting when voters can fix a missing signature on a ballot. Florida and Georgia recently enacted new sets of election rules while Texas lawmakers advanced a their own package in one chamber.

Former President Donald Trump's stolen election lie has inspired hundreds of restrictive voting bills in at least 47 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, a nonpartisan group tracking election legislation.

Many of the bills target mail voting, which was championed by Democrats as a safe way to vote in a pandemic while Trump falsely claimed it was rife with fraud.

The mail voting billfailed an earlier vote last month, when one Republican lawmaker, state Sen. Kelly Townsend, joined Democrats in voting no because the ongoing audit orchestrated by Senate Republicans had not yet been completed and she sought additional legislation.

The audit is well behind schedule and could take another six weeks to complete as auditors look for proof of various conspiracy theories — but Townsend voted along with Republicans and said she did so in "good faith."

"I have been reassured and convinced that it's okay to move forward because we are now looking at other issues that need to be fixed for the 2022 election," she said.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, has excoriated the bill.

“Arizona’s vote-by-mail system has been used by voters for decades, and the changes proposed in this bill are unnecessary and detrimental to the voters who depend on it to ensure that their voice is heard.

“When our democracy was challenged, Arizona's election officials and the people of our state courageously protected it. We should be able to expect the same level of courage from their Governor. I am disappointed that he signed this bill into law.”

“The default for most Arizona voters is voting by mail. It's become ingrained into how we vote in Arizona. We've had it for 25 years, 75 percent of Arizonans are on the Permanent Early Vote List,” she said in a call with reporters last month ahead of the first vote. “It will create chaos in voting — making those kind of changes.”

After the bill's signing, she tweeted that it was "a mistake" and told NBC News in a statement that the changes "are unnecessary and detrimental to the voters."

The debate on Tuesday was emotional and tense at times, with lawmakers using Senate rules to try and stop Democrats from alleging racism and bias in the bill's supporters by raising repeated points of order.

State Sen. Martín Quezada, a Democratic whip, said the bill was part of the nation's history of racially-motivated voter suppression.

"Whenever any of us get up and talk about those disproportionately impacts, that racism that gets incorporated into these laws that we that we pass, that it's triggering for a lot of people," Quezada said. "People start to freak out and they don't like it, they have points of order and they want to do all this stuff and that's fine. But my question is, if now is not the time to talk about ... those issues of systemic racism, when is the time?"

Under the bill, counties will be required to remove voters from the early voting list in odd-numbered years if they do not cast a ballot by mail for two consecutive election cycles and do not respond to a notice from election officials within 90 days.

The bill purges voters from the mail voting list even if they choose to cast a ballot in person on the same voter registration, according to Eliza Sweren-Becker, an attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice tracking voting legislation around the country.

Republicans condemned opposition to the bill, arguing that people need to vote more regularly by mail if they want to stay on the early voting list.

"The best country in the world and you have an opportunity to participate in it, but it's not at the top of somebody's list?" said state Sen. Vince Leach, a Republican. "This bill removes nonvoters, they have elected not to participate. Or they've moved, or they're dead."

Democrats say the bill would remove nearly 150,000 voters from the rolls, and argue it would disenfranchise people of color, seniors, and independent voters, who do not automatically receive primary ballots. Republicans say the measure is about shoring up trust in Arizona’s elections, and updating the rules due to increased usage of mail voting.

Business leaders, Democrats, and advocates protested this bill fiercely, with dozens of business leaders coming out against it and Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James tweeting about the bill in April to his nearly 50 million Twitter followers.

Meanwhile, the controversial and conspiracy-infused effort to recount more than 2 million Maricopa County ballots is nowhere near done. The count is a continuation of GOP efforts to question the results of the 2020 election in a state President Joe Biden won by over 10,000 votes.

His narrow victory prompted many Republicans to embrace Trump's baseless allegations of voter fraud. Some called for the state's Legislature to overrule Biden's win and seat electors who would deliver the state to Trump instead. State GOP leaders said the Legislature did not have that power, and Biden's Electoral College victory was certified.