By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- The next time you cast an early ballot it looks like you're going to have to provide more information.
Amid claims of protecting the integrity of elections, Republicans on the House Committee on Government and Elections approved a measure to require voters to fill out an affidavit that includes their date of birth and either their driver's license number or the number of their county-issued voter ID card. Then county election officials would be required to be sure these match what they have on file.
This would be in addition to the current signature-matching mandates in state law.
Separately the same Republican-controlled panel, also on a party-line vote, agreed to allow anyone with enough money to buy a recount of any -- and all -- elections, and at any level they wanted, right up through the entire state.
And under SB 1010 they could demand not just a regular recount, which is done by running the ballots again through tabulation equipment, but even a hand count as long as they could afford the cost -- no one had any figures -- and the request was made within five days after the formal certification of the results and could afford the cost.
But it is SB 1713 on early voting which has potentially broader impact on individual voters and whether their ballot gets counted.
"There is some feeling that signature verification, while a good thing, is not enough to establish a level of confidence that I think we need,'' said Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler.
The proposal is part of a series of measures altering election laws crafted this year by GOP lawmakers in the wake of the defeat of President Trump in Arizona. The now former president argued in particular that early voting was ripe for fraud despite no proof ever having been found in a series of challenges to the 2020 election.
That contention was repeated Wednesday by Linda Brickman who formerly chaired the Maricopa County Republican Party. There, in her role, she also watched the ballot counting process at county election offices in November.
"I was an eyewitness to the fraud,'' she told lawmakers. "I personally saw fraud in the signature verification room and saw it in play for most almost all of the verification of the 1.9 million mail-in affidavit envelope signatures or lack of them.''
She provided no evidence or specifics. And no one challenged Brickman's claim.
Nor was there any mention that a judge, in one court challenge brought by state GOP Chair Kelly Ward allowed the examination of 100 ballot envelopes. Even Ward's own expert witness found no evidence of fraud, only that six of the signatures were "inconclusive,'' meaning she could not testify they were a match to the signatures on file.
Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, said the additional hurdle for voters is unnecessary. Anyway, she asked, how many people know their county-issued voter ID number, especially if someone is a senior citizen and no longer has a driver's license.
Mesnard said anyone who needs that information can use the computer or call county election offices.
But there's another practical concern raised by county election officials, the ones who would have to do the additional verification.
Gabriella Cazares-Kelly, the Pima County recorder, said that last year her office verified 459,791 early ballots. That required two shifts, each 12 to 14 hours a day, with employees paid about $14 an hour.
Working with the language of SB 1713, Cazares-Kelly said it would take an additional 2,500 hours of staff time, meaning more than $35,000 additional cost.
"And that's only if everyone is using a driver's license number on their affidavit and shows consistent information,'' she said. "The additional verifications are unnecessary and don't add any meaningful security measures to a process that's already proven secure.''
Mesnard, for his part, said having those who vote by mail provide additional information is appropriate.
"The permanent early voting list is a convenience,'' he said. "You still have to prove that you are you.''
The recount legislation seeks to address allegations of election irregularities through a different method.
Aside from allowing anyone to buy a recount, SB 1010 also would give the same power to demand a recount to the secretary of state, the attorney general and the legislative council which is a committee of lawmakers.
That last point specifically would have short-circuited what is going on now with the Senate having had to go to court to demand access to all 2.1 million Maricopa County ballots.
But having won that fight, the senators find themselves now having to find someone to do the recount, and do it in a way that preserves the integrity of the ballots. If SB 1010 were to pass, it would force the county to do the hand count, at its offices and at its expense.
Under SB 1010, this ability to demand -- or buy -- a recount would be done after the already required hand count of a sample number of ballots from 2% of all voting precincts. That sample conducted in Maricopa County after the November vote turned up no disparity with the machine count.
But SB 1010 also alters that requirement, increasing the sampling to at least 5% of precincts.
The idea of anyone being able to purchase a recount bothered Butler. She said the legislation as written even would allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to force a recount of every race in the entire state, a process she said could take months.
Mesnard said if that's the argument against SB 1010 he is willing to alter it to allow only U.S. citizens to pay for recounts.
Butler, however, pointed out that Arizona law in some places defines "persons'' to also include corporations and limited liability companies, all of whom could force a recount. That didn't impress Mesnard.
"Why is who is asking a problem at all?'' he responded.
"It's a big problem because of the chaos that it could cause,'' Butler said.
Both measures now go to the full House.