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Arizona ballot drop boxes to have stronger security measures

ballot drop box.jpg
NPR file photo
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By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Claiming their use is ripe for fraud, Republicans on a Senate panel voted Tuesday to require new security measures on drop boxes now available for people to deposit their early ballots.
The 6-4 party-line vote by the Appropriations Committee on SB 1571 came amid claims by Sen. Kelly Townsend, R-Apache Junction, that the boxes make it too easy for people to anonymously stuff with ballots, even though "ballot harvesting'' already is a crime. So what's in the measure is a requirement that each and every box have a functioning camera or video recorder to take images of each person depositing a ballot.
And those photos would be linked to which ballots are deposited.
It also would be programmed to not accept more than seven ballots from any one person, a provision Townsend said also would help deter ballot harvesting.
There is no specific reason for that limit. But the ballot harvesting ban approved by lawmakers in 2016 -- upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court -- does allow individuals to handle not only their own voted ballots but also those of family members and those living in the same household.
Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, pointed out that the measure also spells out that if the camera stops working the box self locks and cannot accept more ballots. And presuming that the cameras are solar powered, that raises the question of what happens if it's raining -- or, in Northern Arizona, snowing -- on the days the drop boxes are supposed to be available.
Townsend, however, was unpersuaded. She told colleagues that if she had her way, there would be no drop boxes at all.
In fact, her original version of SB 1571 actually sought to wipe out the ability of Arizonans to return their early ballots by dropping them in the mail.
Only thing is, Townsend conceded, she lacks the votes, even in the Republican-controlled legislature, to make such radical changes. So she has to be satisfied with better oversight of the approximately 160 drop boxes that are now available statewide.
Sen. Raquel Teran, D-Phoenix, said anything that potentially shuts down drop boxes would harm those who may not have the time or opportunity to seek out another one -- assuming one is available -- or take their ballot to a voting center or county office.
But Townsend bristled at suggestions that new restrictions on how people can cast their ballots becomes a form of voter suppression.
"I can't accept that,'' she said. "We have to have security in voting or people won't vote because they think their votes don't count.''
Teran, however, said the answer to that isn't taking pictures of people as they cast their early ballots or making drop boxes unavailable if there is a malfunction.
"If we want to restore the confidence in our elections we need to stop the Big Lie,'' she said, referring to baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.
Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, had a different take.
"The fact is that 45% of the people in Arizona believe that there's problems with our election,'' he said.
"It has nothing to do with the Big Lie, Stop the Steal and all that,'' Leach continued. "These are people who don't think their votes are being counted.''
And Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, said he sees nothing wrong with the photos or videos, saying it's no more onerous than having to present identification when casting a ballot in person.
What was approved Tuesday by the committee is unlikely to be the final word. Townsend said she wants further restrictions when the measure now goes to the full Senate.
Among those changes could be even more limits on where they could be located.
One issue, Townsend said, would be having them inside of government buildings where, presumably, individuals could not stuff the boxes with multiple ballots. That, she said, could eliminate the need for the photo and video evidence.
But there are issues with that, too.
"I don't know that I feel comfortable putting them in a municipal building or even at this point a county building because of the struggles we've had with the county,'' she said. That refers to the refusal of Maricopa County to cooperate with the decision by the Senate to hire Cyber Ninjas to conduct its own kind of "audit'' of the 2020 election.
What that could leave, Townsend said, are state buildings, with a preference for the Motor Vehicle Division where people already can register to vote.
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On Twitter: @azcapmedia