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Updated Sep 11, 2013 - 6:38 pm

Group files petitions to block new election law

PHOENIX — A group opposed to a sweeping Republican-backed election law
signed by Gov. Jan Brewer in June filed more than 146,000 petition signatures
Wednesday that will block the law temporarily and refer it to voters next year
if the signatures are certified.

The filing includes far more than the 86,405 signatures the coalition that
formed Protect Your Right to Vote needed.

House Bill 2305 was passed in the last hours of the legislative session over
the opposition of Democrats. They called it a thinly veiled effort to keep
Republicans in power by creating new hurdles for low-income voters and some

“It’s not every day that voters get to refer a bad piece of legislation to the
ballot,” said Julie Erfle, the group’s chairwoman. “HB2305 and the politicians
who voted for it managed to galvanize one of the largest and most diverse
coalitions in our state’s history.”

Supporters say the law cleans up early-voting rolls, evens the playing field
for third-party candidates and will ensure quicker election results.

“I think this bill is getting way overblown, that’s it’s being blown out of
proportion by groups that are actually using it as a rallying cry and to
increase their fundraising base,” said Sen. Michele Reagan, a Republican who
championed the bill. “It’s a solid bill and what people are complaining about
is prohibited in every other state, and I fail to see the claims that this is
anything nefarious.”

Elections officials will check the signatures for validity. Matt Roberts,
spokesman for Secretary of State Ken Bennett, said the law won’t go into effect
as scheduled Friday if it appears the group has filed close to the number of
signatures they need.

“Common sense would indicate it would not be in effect,” Roberts said. “But
again, people have litigated issues like these quite often.”

The Secretary of State and county election officials will need to verify the
signatures, and if the count meets the requirements, the hold will stay until
the November 2014 general election.

The legislation seeks to trim Arizona’s permanent early voting list and limit
who may return mail ballots for voters. It also ups the number of signatures
third-party candidates must gather to appear on the ballot, among a host of
other provisions.

Democratic lawmakers, voting rights groups and third-party politicians had
fought the measure.

“It is pernicious, it is in many ways much worse the (recently adopted) North
Carolina law, which has gotten all the press,” said Bill Roe, chairman of the
state Democratic Party.

On a national level, the third-party candidate signature change could help push
the state’s three swing districts into the GOP column. Democrats won Arizona’s
1st and 9th Congressional districts in 2012 by smaller margins than Libertarian
candidates earned.

“This is an attempt to pressure Libertarians to vote Republican,” said Barry
Hess, vice chair of the state Libertarian Party. “But they really have got it
screwed up, because they really didn’t invite any Libertarian support, they
invited Libertarian active opposition, and that’s what they’re going to get.”

Many Republicans believe those Libertarian voters may have ended up in the GOP
column, although not all agree.

“Most Libertarians wouldn’t vote for Republicans,” said former state Sen. Ron
Gould, a Republican who signed the petition calling for a referendum on House
Bill 2305. “The real fear is the Republicans don’t like the Republican
candidate so they vote for the Libertarian in protest.”

He said the answer for the GOP, rather than changing the rules, is to field
better candidates.

Democrats were concerned the legislation targeted their get-out-the-vote
efforts and were furious when Brewer signed it into law.

Arizona’s 15 elected county recorders had urged Brewer to sign the bill, noting
that 58 percent of all provisional ballots cast in 2012 were from voters who
received early ballots in the mail.


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