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Arizona Republicans propose major changes to elections after GOP review finds no fraud

A number of provisions in the two dozen bills appear inspired by debunked conspiracies and Trump's false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
Image: Arizona's new election proposals would require a fingerprint along with voter ID, and special ballots with watermarks and holographs
One bill would require voters to show voter ID cards and verify the cards with two of three methods — signatures, security codes or fingerprints; another would require ballot paper with holograms and watermarks.Shahrzad Elghanayan / NBC News; Getty Images

Arizona Republicans have put forth two dozen bills this month that would significantly change the state's electoral processes after the GOP's unorthodox review of millions of ballots affirmed President Joe Biden's victory and turned up no proof of fraud.

Proposals introduced in the state House or the Senate would add an additional layer to the state's voter ID requirement, such as fingerprints, and stipulate the hand counting of all ballots by default. Other legislation would require that paper ballots be printed with holograms and watermarks.

Republican legislators argue that the proposals, part an ongoing surge of GOP-led election changes enacted or under consideration across the country, are necessary to enhance election security and prevent fraud.

Official counts, audits and accuracy tests have confirmed the election results in Arizona and elsewhere without finding evidence of widespread fraud, and states with Republican and Democratic leaders have certified the results as accurate. Former President Donald Trump, who continues to promote the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him, was unable to prove any of the claims in court. A coalition of federal agencies involved in election security, alongside representatives of election officials from each state, said the election was "the most secure in American history."

The Legislature began its 2022 session on Jan. 12, and many of the bills have already been referred to committees for consideration. They face uncertain fates, as Republicans hold narrow majorities in the Senate, and a Republican, state Sen. Paul Boyer, said he would block bills he saw as unnecessary or problematic.

Some of the bills appear to be tied to conspiracy theories about the 2020 election that were elevated in the widely criticized ballot review state Senate Republicans orchestrated last year. Election experts said Cyber Ninjas, the company the legislators hired to examine millions of ballots in Maricopa County, had little to no experience with handling ballots, appeared to be looking for proof of conspiracy theories and misrepresented normal election processes in its final report as suggestive of fraud. Cyber Ninjas is accruing $50,000 a day in fines for refusing to respond to a court order requiring it to turn over documents related to its work.

Other bills, like one that would ban automatic voter registration from being implemented, appear to be designed to pre-empt provisions in national Democrats' election overhaul legislation, which has stalled in the Senate.

A Republican who has advanced false claims about the election, state Rep. Mark Finchem, who was outside the U.S. Capitol when rioters stormed it on Jan. 6, 2021, introduced and co-sponsored several bills, one of which would require that all ballots cast for primary and general elections be hand counted by defaulta method that election experts say is unreliable and time-consuming. The state's millions of dollars' worth of ballot tabulation machines would be used only to verify hand counts.Finchem is running for state secretary of state, the office that oversees elections.

Another bill would spend $5 million create a special bureau to investigate voter fraud; still another would require voters to show voter ID cards and verify the cards with two of three methods — signatures, security codes or fingerprints.

Several bills in both the House and the Senate would mandate special ballot paper security measures. (People associated with Cyber Ninjas at one point said they were using ultraviolet light to scan the ballots for watermarks, as well as checking them for bamboo threads, the latter apparently to address dubious claims of an influx of fraudulent ballots from China. No such watermarks or threads were found, according to the report.)

Senate Bill 1120 would require elaborate "antifraud ballot paper" that meets a 19-point list of security requirements, including the use of holograms and watermarks printed into the paper, holographic foil, microprinting, special inks like those that change color under heat or light, QR codes and "custom, complex security background designs with banknote-level security." The draft bill includes a blank line for appropriations, indicating that the 15 Republican co-sponsors aren't yet clear on how much such paper would cost taxpayers.

Jeff Ellington, the CEO of the ballot vendor Runbeck Election Services, said he was also having trouble pricing out the proposed changes, although it was clear it would be expensive.

Runbeck supplied about 20 percent of U.S. mail ballots in 2020, Ellington said, printing 35 million ballots for jurisdictions in 22 states, including Arizona's largest county, Maricopa.

Ellington said that he had to Google some of the bill's requirements and that even some of his suppliers were befuddled by some of its requirements; he said it wasn't yet clear whether the proposed ballot design was even possible.

"Nobody's got that technology," he said of election vendors. "It's not readily available technology, because it's bank-level, Treasury-level stuff."

Another bill, Senate Bill 1028, would ask vendors to meet three of 10 potential security requirements for the paper ballots, including watermarks, holographic foil and holograms, designs visible only under ultraviolet lights and special inks. Ellington said that the bill was feasible and that his company was able to meet as many as four of the requirements.

The bill would add about a dime to the price of each ballot, he said. On average, paper ballots sold by Runbeck cost 21 cents to 31 cents apiece.

He said it is already "impossible" to forge ballots under the current design, because his company uses high-end, professional printers and special paper that it orders months in advance and because it prints thousands of different ballot styles for millions of voters in less than a month.

After voters cast their ballots, election officials check their signatures to verify their identities.

At least two bills propose putting ballot images online, which Boyer said he would support as long as voters' identifying information is removed.

Georgia recently passed a law allowing the state to release images of voters' ballots, which proponents said would increase voter confidence in the count.

Boyer also said he would support adding a voter ID requirement for ballots cast by mail, which was considered in the last legislative session. He said he wasn't sure how such a proposal would work.

Other proposed bills would ban unmonitored drop boxes and the use of "voting centers" that allow voters to cast ballots away from their home precincts.

Boyer, who has criticized his party's relentless focus on elections, said he recently refused to attend closed Senate Republican caucus meetings about the topic.

"I said if you want me in the room, let's talk about water, let's talk about transportation, let's talk about something that we can make a difference. If you want to talk about elections, I'm sorry, but I'm busy," he said.

Boyer is retiring at the end of this year's term. Republican Anthony Kern, a Trump-endorsed candidate who was seen on the Capitol steps on Jan. 6and is campaigning on election issues, is running to fill his seat. The district appears to be competitive after the latest round of redistricting.

Asked whether he thought the party would simply pass the legislation after he retired, Boyer said, "If he wins and the Republicans keep the majority, yeah, looks like it."

"I thought about running again — only for that reason, because I just didn't want to have my constituents deal with that guy," he said. "But at the end of the day, I just thought, you know, I'm tired."