By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Republican senators are moving on two front to erect new hurdles in the path of those who want to vote early.
On a party-line vote, GOP senators on Monday decided to scrap existing laws which determine the validity of early ballots based solely on county election workers matching their signatures on the envelopes with what's on file.
Instead, they would need to provide an affidavit with their date of birth and and the number of a state drive's license, identification card or tribal enrollment card.
No such identification? Voters would have to send a copy of any other federal state or locally issued ID card.
And if they don't have that?
The proposal by Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, gets more complicated.
First, there's the need for someone's voter registration number.
"Raise your hand if you know your voter registration number,'' said Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Tempe.
But that isn't enough. Then they have to enclosed an actual physical copy of something with their actual address like a utility bill, vehicle registration form, property tax statement or a bank statement dated within the past 90 days.
Monday's vote on SB 1713 is just part of the GOP plan to make it more difficult to cast an early ballot.
Waiting in the wings for Senate debate is a proposal by Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, which he already pushed out of the Appropriations Committee which would give early voters less time to make a decision.
First, it would chop five days off the front end before early ballots have to be mailed out. Under his legislation, they could not be mailed out more than 22 days ahead of an election, down from 27 days. And even if people had previously requested an early ballot, it might not be sent out until 19 days before the election; current law mandates they go out at least 24 days.
That, however, is only half of it.
Right now any ballot delivered by the post office by 7 p.m. on Election Day gets counted.
Gowan's SB 1593, however, says any ballot not actually postmarked by the prior Thursday is discarded -- even if it shows up before close of business on Election Day.
Nothing in Gowan's bill precludes a voter from taking that early ballot to a polling place on Election Day, turning it in and instead getting a regular ballot.
But there is no longer the option for those who tend to wait until the last minute to give that early ballot to a neighbor to take the the pols. A 2016 law pushed through by Republican legislators makes it a felony for voters who can't get to a polling place to give it to most others.
The two are just part of what has been a sustained effort by Republicans to change the rules following the returns which showed Joe Biden outpolling Donald Trump in Arizona, a result that some have refused to accept as valid.
Proponents say all they're trying to do is ensure election integrity. That's why the Senate, also on a party-line vote on Mnday, gave $1 million to Attorney General Mark Brnovich he can use to investigate election fraud.
Several of the Democrats, however, said they see something even more nefarious than politics in the motives. They said that the measures, taken together and separately, have a disparate effect on the ability of minorities to vote as they may not have a driver's license and the same access to things like copy machines and printers to make copies of required documents.
"These are voter suppression bills,'' said Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson.
That brought an angry reaction from Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who said that amounts to saying that Republicans are racists.
She said the new forms of ID don't disenfranchise anyone. And she said nothing in legislation is crafted to apply solely to one group.
But Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said that misstates the situation -- and federal law.
She pointed out that courts have voided otherwise "facially neutral'' law if they have a disproportionate impact on minorities.
"They are what they are,'' said Gonzales of the effects of the legislation. "They are election suppression bills.''
And she said the reason is because Republicans fear the fact that by 2030 Hispanics will be the majority in Arizona.
Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, was more blunt.
"Sometimes the truth hurts,'' she said of the GOP efforts.
But Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, who crafted the new requirements for mail-in voting, said he sees nothing wrong with providing some extra security to ensure that the votes received come from the people who were supposed to get those ballots.
Still, Mesnard said he will make some further changes when the bill now goes to the House to ease some of those requirement.
Gowan said his bill to trim the amount of time to get an early ballot back is designed to help out county recorders. He said having early ballots showing up at the last minute means they are busy processing those ballots that come in by mail when they should be working on dealing with the polling places on Election Day "so we can have an election that is counted soon instead of weeks like we've been seeing.''
Bowie, during committee debate on the measure, said that still doesn't answer the other half of the question: Why delay having those ballots going out to voters in the first place?
Gowan defended the move, saying it should still give people enough time to make a decision, even with the new earlier deadline to drop it in the mail.
"I presume most people are going to make that decision in two weeks,'' he said. "I'm sure that people would prepare themselves in anticipation of that early ballot coming.''
Sen Ruben Navarrete, D-Phoenix, was unconvinced.
"It really hurts too many Arizonans who are relying on this system,'' he said.