House approves new emergency voting restrictions

By: - April 8, 2019 4:51 pm

Photo by Theresa Thompson | Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The House of Representatives approved new restrictions on emergency voting Monday, sending the proposal back to the Senate so it can approve several changes before it goes to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk.

In-person early voting ends on the Friday before every election, but people who have emergencies that would prevent them from going to the polls on Election Day can partake in emergency voting. Most counties offer emergency voting, and few question voters about the nature of their emergencies.

That would change if Senate Bill 1090 becomes law. Under the bill, voters would be required to sign statements affirming that they have genuine, unavoidable emergencies that prevent them from voting on Election Day. Falsely claiming an emergency would be a class 4 felony, which carries a penalty of 1.5 to 3 years in prison. Voters casting emergency ballots would also be required to show identification, which is required for in-person voting on Election Day but not for early voting, which verifies voters’ identities by checking their signatures.

SB1090 would also give exclusive authority over the locations of emergency voting centers to county boards of supervisors. That became a point of contention following the 2018 general election after Republicans voiced concern with Democratic Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes’s decisions regarding the locations of five emergency voting centers.

Democratic lawmakers raised a number of issues with the bill, including that the affidavits and potential perjury penalties will make people wary of using emergency voting.

“This is another bill that will have the effect of suppressing voters in Arizona,” said Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe.

Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, argued that the entire notion of emergency voting is archaic, saying the state should end the practice and simply allow early voting up through the day before elections for any reason.

Some of the Democrats’ criticism of the bill missed the mark. Several argued that the affidavits voters would be required to sign would be public records, which could expose health issues and other personal reasons for using emergency voting. But Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, noted the SB1090 exempts the affidavits from public records laws.

And after Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, said those affidavits could be subject to subpoenas in post-election lawsuits, Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the affidavits would be separated from ballots, leaving no way to dispute a voter’s ballot based on the content of his or her affidavit. The House Elections Committee amended the bill to eliminate the original version’s requirement that voters describe their emergency in their affidavits.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Michele Ugenti-Rita, and other Republicans have described SB1090 as a necessity following the controversy that erupted over emergency voting in Maricopa County in November.

Fontes opened several emergency voting centers around the Valley, which Republicans alleged were set up in predominantly Democratic areas. Republicans also questioned his decision to not ask voters about whether they had bona fide emergencies, which state law defines as “unforeseen circumstances that would prevent the elector from voting at the polls.” Fontes said he was simply trying to ensure that as many people as possible could vote in the election.

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Steve Chucri, a Republican, questioned Fontes’s authority to open the centers and asked that all ballots cast via emergency voting be set aside. Fontes declined the request.

Former Recorder Helen Purcell, a Republican who held the office for 28 years before Fontes defeated her in 2016, used to make voters sign a declaration that they were using emergency voting because of genuine emergencies. Purcell once turned away then-Congressman J.D. Hayworth from using emergency voting on the grounds that he didn’t have an actual emergency and has simply failed to plan ahead.

About 3,000 Maricopa County voters cast emergency ballots in the 2018 general election.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”