BLOG / February 4, 2024

Gov. Katie Hobbs says GOP’s fix for Arizona’s potential election logjam ‘dead on arrival’

By Casey Clowes

A draft bill from Republican lawmakers would fix a potential election logjam.

It would also stir in unrelated changes to how Arizona runs its elections, likely ensuring it won’t get the bipartisan two-thirds vote needed to meet a Friday deadline. And Gov. Katie Hobbs thinks the draft is “unacceptable.”

Still, Arizona’s election officials say they can work with it.

The proposal would bump up this year’s primary to July 30 and reduce timelines for verifying a voter’s signature on their mail-in ballot and canvassing election results. Those changes are intended to prevent a nightmare scenario: Some military and overseas voters wouldn’t be able to submit a ballot if any of this year’s primary and general races are forced into automatic recounts.

But the draft legislation, written late in the week, goes beyond resolving the current dilemma. It includes proposals to change early voting procedures and, as of 2026, to move the primary election to May — a shift that requires numerous other changes in the law.

The draft ignores the “clean fix” initially sought by county election officials, who now say they can work with its provisions. But negotiations are ongoing, said Jen Marson, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties. The goal is to save 19 days in the primary calendar and 17 in the general election to accommodate the extra time automatic recounts require, she said.

In a statement from her spokesman, Hobbs said the bill “is unacceptable as written.”

Spokesman Christian Slater called the measure “a jumble of political proposals, some of which the governor has already vetoed, that harm voters and don’t address the election timeline issue.”

Hobbs’ stance from the beginning, when possible negative ramifications from the automatic recount law first surfaced, has been that voters should not be harmed by any fix to a problem created by lawmakers.

“That still stands,” Slater said. “Any bill that harms voters’ right to have their voice heard at the ballot box is dead on arrival.”

More deliberations are possible in the coming week. Election officials have said Feb. 9 is the deadline to get any changes in law and to fit with existing election time frames.

Rep. Laura Terech, D-Phoenix, said she is working on a countermeasure that would avoid the problems that election officials fear would arise if races this fall trigger a time-consuming automatic recount.

“We’re working on a clean fix,” she said Saturday of ongoing talks with some county election officials as well as Hobbs’ office. “We’re really focused that Arizona gets its presidential electors in.”

Election officials statewide have warned since last fall that the automatic recount law could force Arizona to miss the deadline to certify results in this year’s presidential election, a move that must happen before sending the results to the Electoral College. A recount in the primary election could delay mailing ballots to military and overseas voters to the point that they would risk being unable to vote.

The automatic recount law was changed in the wake of the 2020 presidential election when Joe Biden narrowly won in Arizona.

The Arizona Legislature’s reaction was to widen the threshold for a recount. A race previously had to be within one-tenth of a percentage point to trigger a recount. The threshold now stands at less than half a percentage point of all votes cast. If the wider threshold had been in place, the 2020 race would have gone to a recount.

Voting rights advocates on Saturday jumped into the fray that so far has been playing out behind the scenes.

The simple solution would be for lawmakers to repeal the 2022 law and return to the 0.1% recount trigger, said Casey Clowes, voting rights director for Progress Arizona.

“They created this problem by increasing the recount threshold five-fold and that is where they should find the solution ― not on the backs of Arizona voters,” Clowes said in a statement.

Arizona House Speaker Ben Toma on the floor inside the House chamber in Phoenix on Jan. 24, 2024.

But Republicans have rejected a simple repeal, seeing the situation as an opportunity to push for election changes that were vetoed last year by Hobbs, a former secretary of state.

House Speaker Ben Toma said the draft bill is the better solution, noting the people who run elections — county officials — approve of it.

While he said he’s not ruling out further talks, he plans to move ahead with the GOP legislation.

Toma noted the deadline for action is actually Thursday, as the Legislature is not meeting on Friday.

The bill could pass with a simple majority vote from Republicans, but it almost certainly would face a veto from Hobbs.

“That’s on them,” Toma, R-Glendale, said of Democrats and Hobbs if no solution is reached.

The draft bill proposes several changes to avoid problems in this year’s elections. They include:

  • Move the Aug. 6 primary to July 30. That would allow enough time to handle a recount and still get general election ballots mailed out to military and overseas voters.
  • Allow counties to send their vote canvasses to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office electronically, saving the time it currently takes to mail it. The counties would have to provide proof they have mailed the canvass ahead of pressing the “send” button on an electronic communication.
  • Shorten the time counties have to submit their election canvass by three days for a primary election and four for a general election.
  • Allow five calendar days, instead of five business days, for voters to “cure” their ballots. Curing happens when election officials need to verify a voter’s signature on their mail-in ballot envelope or when a voter shows up at the polls without ID and must cast a conditional provisional ballot.
  • Allow a candidate to opt out of a recount if his or her race triggers the recount law.

The cure issue has been contentious. Some county officials, such as Pima County Recorder Gabriella Cázares-Kelly, said allowing weekend days to count toward the five-day period reduces the flexibility voters have on regular business days. Public transportation runs less frequently on weekends, and voters who might provide their ID proof via U.S. mail would lose one day since general mail is not delivered on Sundays, she explained in a social media post.


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