PHOENIX — Efforts to strip the ability to vote early from potentially hundreds of thousands of Arizonans stalled Thursday amid a vocal and name-calling spat between two Senate Republicans.
Kelly Townsend of Mesa acknowledged she had supported SB 1485 when it was approved on a party-line vote in committee.
But Townsend said she could not provide the required 16th vote in the 30-member Senate because she does not think it goes far enough. Townsend, a vocal proponent of theories of how the last election was fraudulent, said she wants more fixes, including ones that she proposed but that never got to the Senate floor.
That refusal resulted in Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, sponsor of the bill, saying Townsend was throwing a “temper tantrum.’’
Townsend said she’s not trying to kill the proposal.
She said she wants lawmakers to keep SB 1485 on ice until completion of an audit of the results of the returns from Maricopa County. Those results, Townsend said, will tell lawmakers what needs to be fixed.
That review, including a hand count of all 2.1 million ballots, began Thursday after county election officials delivered the ballots and the counting machines to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum as demanded by a Senate subpoena.
Only thing is, the results are not expected to be completed much before the end of May. But the session could be done by then if lawmakers can approve a new budget.
Townsend, who said earlier this year she believes the results of the 2020 election were “tainted,’’ said she doesn’t care if that means lawmakers have to remain at the Capitol. She said lawmakers can’t wait until next year to make any fixes, as any changes likely could not take effect before the August 2022 primary.
But for the moment, the new voting restrictions in SB 1485 remain in limbo.
And all that leaves the future of this new voting restriction in limbo.
SB 1485 sought to remove people from the list who had not used their early ballots in at least one of the two prior election cycles.
They would remain registered to vote. But they would have to go to the polls in person or request to be put back on the list.
Democrats said that harms people who may have little interest in voting until they find a candidate or issue of concern. They provided figures showing that if this law had been in effect in 2020 more than 200,000 people would not have received an early ballot based on failure to use it in 2016 or 2018.
Foes said an analysis of who would be affected suggests political motives, especially with claims that it would reduce voting by minorities who are more likely to back Democrats.
The measure already had been approved once by the Senate but required a final vote to ratify changes made in the House. Then Townsend balked.
“I know that the senator is upset that some of her bills died in committee,’’ Ugenti-Rita said. “It’s disappointing to be on the receiving end of someone’s temper tantrum.’’
Townsend bristled at that description.
“You guys can say it’s a temper tantrum,’’ she said. But Townsend conceded that there is some truth behind what Ugenti-Rita is saying.
“Absolutely I am upset about all of my election bills dead, absolutely,’’ she said. “You want to see a temper tantrum? I can show you one if you really want.’’
But Townsend said that it’s a mistake to believe that altering the early voting system will fix what’s wrong with Arizona election laws. And she said that will become obvious once the audit of Maricopa County ballots is complete.
Townsend already has identified what she believes are problems.
For example, she said more than 11% of ballots cast in Maricopa County had to be “adjudicated.’’ That means humans had to examine the ballot, whether due to stray marks or voting for more than one candidate in a race, to determine the voter’s true intent.
By contrast, Townsend said, the adjudication figure elsewhere in Arizona is less than 2%.
Townsend had her own proposals to make what she said were needed fixes in the system.
One, for example, said people could get early ballots in the mail but they had to return them in person. She also wanted the state auditor general to review all the voting equipment annually in at least the two largest counties.
Neither got a hearing.
A bill to require all election equipment to be made in this country and to prohibit results from being transmitted to a foreign country did get out of the Senate but died in the House.