ARIZONA NEWS

Arizona Legislature agrees to changes in elections timeline, including earlier primary

Feb 8, 2024, 5:00 PM | Updated: Feb 9, 2024, 6:27 am

The Arizona Legislature agreed Feb. 8, 2024, to give counties more time to tally votes after county...

The Arizona Legislature agreed Feb. 8, 2024, to give counties more time to tally votes after county officials complained that a 2022 change in law would make it difficult to complete counting votes in time if the results were close enough to trigger a mandatory recount. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

(AP Photo/Matt York, File)

PHOENIX — The Arizona Legislature agreed Thursday to give counties more time to tally votes after county officials complained that a 2022 change in law would make it difficult to complete counting votes in time if the results were close enough to trigger a mandatory recount.

The proposed fix approved overwhelmingly by both chambers of the Republican-majority Legislature will be sent to Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, whose office said she will sign the measure into law. The state faces a Friday deadline for making the fix, which would apply to Arizona’s primary this summer and general election in the fall but won’t affect the state’s March 19 presidential primary.

County officials who are expecting an increase in mandatory recounts have warned for months that if they aren’t given more time, Arizona could miss federal deadlines for sending general election ballots to military and overseas voters and for certifying the state’s voting results.

Counties say Friday is the last day to make the changes before the primary becomes untenable.

Under the proposal approved in the House, counties would be given an extra 19 days after primaries and 17 days after general elections to count votes. The changes are prompted by a 2022 measure that increased the threshold for recounts, which are now triggered when candidates are within 0.5% of each other. The previous margin for a mandatory recount was one-tenth of 1%.

Arizona’s results from the 2020 presidential race, when Democrat Joe Biden beat Republican Donald Trump by 10,457 votes, didn’t go to an automatic recount. Under the new threshold, the race would have triggered a mandatory recount.

The bill also would move up Arizona’s primary election from Aug. 6 to July 30, altering the timeline during which voters can “cure” early ballots that are missing signatures from five business days to five calendar days, and enshrines standards for verifying ballot signatures into law. “I’m happy to say Arizona will deliver its electors on time when the election comes,” Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen said.

Rep. Alexander Kolodin, the Scottsdale Republican who sponsored the bill, said it addresses a common complaint he heard as a member of the GOP.

“There is no complaint that I hear more — or more vociferously — from our grassroots than that this body did not use leverage in order to get election integrity signed into law,” Kolodin said. “Today, we remedy that error.” Democrats who had complained that the proposal pushed by Republicans wasn’t the “clean fix” they were looking ended up voting for the measure. “While this legislation isn’t perfect, it’s the result of hard-fought compromises from everyone involved,” Hobbs said in a statement. “Arizonans can rest assured that their voices will be heard and that our elections will run free of political interference.”

Democratic Rep. Cesar Aguilar of Phoenix said the changes being made to the cure period are worrisome because it could leave voters without enough time to fix their ballots. Still, he voted for the bill.

“We simply cannot risk that Arizona doesn’t have representation in the Electoral College,” Aguilar said.

Republicans say the signature verification standards were needed to guard against breaching signature verification protocols that might be made to meet a deadline. They point out the standards are already contained in a 2020 signature verification guide issued by Hobbs when she served as Arizona’s secretary of state.

Hobbs, however, vetoed a 2023 bill declaring that the standards in the guide are to serve as the minimum requirement for comparing signatures. In her veto letter, the governor said it was more appropriate to include the standards in the state’s elections procedure manual or in guidance from the secretary of state’s office.

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Arizona Legislature agrees to changes in elections timeline, including earlier primary