Arizona group advocating for voter ID requirements files election lawsuit
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- A group advocating for more voter ID requirements is now trying to keep Arizonans from weighing in on a competing measure that actually would loosen them.
The lawsuit filed by the Arizona Free Enterprise Club claims that Arizonans for Free and Fair Elections did not submit sufficient valid signatures for its initiative. Lawyers for the organization are asking Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Mikitish to block it from appearing on the November ballot.
But attorney Jim Barton who represents the initiative backers, said he is convinced that there is no merit to the complaint.
The measure being challenged contains a laundry list of changes to state election laws.
For example, it would allow people to register and vote at the same time, including on Election Day. And people would be registered to vote automatically when they get an Arizona driver's license unless they opt out.
It also would reinstate the state's permanent early voting list which automatically provides ballots by mail for anyone who requests it, overturning a decision last year by the Republican-controlled legislature.
In seeking to disqualify the measure, challengers alleged a series of violations of laws that affect the signature-gathering process for initiatives.
These include circulators gathering signatures before they registered with the Secretary of State as required by law, failing to provide a full and complete residential address, and failing to write their full and correct assigned circulator number on the front and back of one or more of the petition sheets.
What makes that significant is that violations of law by circulators disqualifies all the signatures they gathered. And that, the challengers argue, would leave the measure short of the 237,645 valid signatures needed to go to voters.
At the heart of the lawsuit are two decidedly different views about election laws.
The Free Enterprise Club is behind a measure put on the ballot by lawmakers to require more voter identification.
Those going to the polls would have to provide a photo ID. That would override existing options where voters can bring in two documents without a photo that contain a person's name and address, like a utility bill, vehicle registration or property tax statement.
And it would impose new mandates on those who vote early and by mail.
Current law says a ballot is presumed valid if the signature on the envelope matches what county election officials have on file. But Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, the sponsor of the measure, said that is insufficient to restore voter confidence.
Instead, the measure would add the requirement of an affidavit with the voter's date of birth and the number from one of several acceptable forms of identification such as a driver's license or the last four digits of a person's Social Security number.
That is in direct conflict with the initiative which would spell out in law that a matched signature is sufficient to have the votes inside an envelope counted.
But that's not the only thing in the initiative that the lawsuit by the Free Enterprise Club seeks to keep off the ballot.
Aside from restoration of the permanent early voting list and same-day registration, the initiative would repeal the 2016 law that makes it a crime for individuals to take someone else's early ballot to a polling place.
For those who do like to vote in person, the initiative would require election officials to do what they can to keep waiting times in lines at polling places to no more than 30 minutes. And anyone who is not an election official could provide food, nonalcoholic beverages and the use of umbrella or chairs to make those in line comfortable as long as those offers are not tied to how someone votes.
It also would sharply reduce the amount of money candidates could take from any individual or political action committee while making more cash available for those who refuse to take outside contributions and instead run for office using public dollars.
Another provision would raise the minimum state income tax that corporations must pay from $50 a year to $150 for corporations with more than 150 workers.
And there's even a provision designed to keep lawmakers from tinkering with presidential electors. It would say that any changes in how electors are selected must be made by Jan. 1 of the election year, a move that would preclude last-minute efforts like those that occurred after the 2020 election by legislators unhappy with the popular vote.
If the lawsuit is unsuccessful, both measures would be on the November ballot. And if both were to pass, the one with more votes would take precedence -- but only in the areas where the two conflict, meaning that provisions from both could become law.
An initial court hearing is set for this coming week.
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