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Phoenix mayor, others oppose bill outlawing early ballot collection

(AP Photo)

PHOENIX — Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton joined Democratic lawmakers outside the Capitol on Monday to oppose a measure that would make it a felony for voter outreach groups to collect and drop off early ballots.

City and county officials, lawmakers and advocacy groups, including the League of Women Voters, coordinated the press conference to stand against a bill they say limits voter participation. Stanton said the bill would exclude poor and Latino voters and turn volunteers collecting early ballots into felons.

“It will discourage and prevent untold thousands of Arizona voters from participating in our next election,” he said.

The measure by Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, would make it a Class 6 felony for anyone but a family member, roommate, caregiver, postal worker or candidate to collect early ballots from another person in an act sometimes called “ballot harvesting.”

Ugenti-Rita, who chairs the House Elections Committee, said the measure doesn’t exclude voters.

“It protects the integrity of our electoral process,” she said. “I don’t think you should be in the business of collecting someone else’s ballot. That is not a good practice.”

Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo said the bill has one focus.

“Let’s make no mistake about it,” he said. “It’s obvious: This bill is aimed to try to reduce voter participation. They don’t like voters coming to the polls.”

House Bill 2023 revives a key part of a major 2013 election law that was overturned after voters collected more than 146,000 signatures to halt the law.

Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, said the HB 2023 is nothing more than an attempt by Republicans to halt an effective program used by Democrats.

“Ever since I’ve been in the Legislature, this bill has come up every year,” he said. “And every year I find it more and more pathetic that this is the way they want to win.”

At least 14 states restrict who can return a ballot and how ballots many they can collect, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A person may collect as many as 10 ballots in states such as Colorado, while Arizona and Texas have no limits on how many ballots a person can collect and return.

The House Elections Committee chaired by Ugenti-Rita passed the measure along party lines in a 4-2 vote last week.

KTAR’s Brian Rackham and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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