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Bill to purge Arizona permanent early-voting list fails in Senate

Election workers sort ballots Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, at the Maricopa County Recorder's Office in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — The Arizona Senate on Tuesday rejected an effort to purge about 200,000 people from a list of voters who automatically get mail ballots, a bill voting rights advocates criticized as a Republican voter-suppression tactic after Democratic President Joe Biden narrowly won the state.

One Republican senator joined all 14 Democrats to kill the measure in a 15-15 tie. But GOP Sen. Paul Boyer of Glendale is facing intense pressure from his fellow Republicans to flip his vote, and the bill could come back at a later date.

Arizonans vote overwhelmingly by mail thanks in large part to the popularity of the Permanent Early Voting List, which allows voters to sign up once and automatically get a ballot by mail for every election.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita of Scottsdale would purge from the list any voters who skip the primary and general election for two cycles in a row.

A review of voting records suggests about 200,000 people meet those criteria, said Sophia Solis, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat who opposes the legislation, SB1069. About half of those affected are independents, along with 64,000 Democrats and 47,000 Republicans.

Biden won Arizona by about 10,000 votes, becoming the first Democrat since 1996 to win the state’s presidential electors.

Democrats warn that the push to purge the permanent early voting list would make it harder for people to vote, particularly if they’re accustomed to automatically getting a ballot in the mail. The burden would fall especially hard on people of color and those with low incomes, they say.

Ugenti-Rita has said her bill would affect only those who have skipped multiple elections, and would not cancel their voter registration; they could still vote in person.

Boyer did not explain his vote against the bill and could not immediately be reached for comment. Boyer last week joined the Democrats to block a resolution that could have led to the arrest of the five members of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

Some Republican senators are angry that the board, which the GOP controls 4-1, has not turned over ballots and voting machines used in the 2020 election.

After her bill failed, Ugenti-Rita immediately moved to put the brakes on a Boyer-sponsored measure to expand Arizona’s school voucher program, which cleared the Senate in a party-line vote Monday. Her motion was approved with support from a mix of Republicans and Democrats.

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