Arizona Bill That Could Prevent 200,000 Voters from Casting Mail-In Ballots Passes House Committee

Flags fly at half-staff at the Arizona Capitol in honor the late Republican Senator John McCain on August 26, 2018, in Phoenix, Arizona. ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

An Arizona House committee advanced legislation on Tuesday that would prevent voters from being able to cast early mail-in ballots.

The House Elections Committee passed the bill through a party vote, with Republicans approving the measure and Democrats rejecting it. The legislation, Senate Bill 1188, has already been passed in the Senate and would go to the governor if the whole Republican-controlled House approves it.

The legislation would remove voters from the Permanent Early Voting List if they don't cast a vote for two election cycles, The Arizona Republic reported. Voters would still be able to cast ballots at the polls. About 75 percent of the state's voters cast mail-in ballots, the outlet said.

"These are individuals that obviously are not choosing to vote early," State Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita, a Republican who sponsored the bill, told The Arizona Republic. "This is frankly a sacred document. And we want to make sure that we're sending them to individuals who are utilizing the system."

Newsweek reached out to Ugenti-Rita and two Republican representatives who voted to advance the legislation but did not hear back prior to publication.

Democrats framed the legislation as a form of voter suppression.

"If this is not an issue of voter suppression, then please go back and fix this bill because the effect of it makes it look that way," Representative Diego Rodriguez, a Democrat, said.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, also indicated she did not support the measure.

"One of the Secretary of State's primary objectives is to promote efficient election administration across Arizona," C. Murphy Hebert, Hobbs' director of communications told Newsweek. "If the purpose of this bill is to reduce the number of people who receive PVL ballots and don't use them, then a better approach is to increase voter outreach and education to encourage people to vote and return their PEVL ballots. Instead, the bill uses the punitive method of purging people from the PEVL. This undermines the efficiency and spirit of a Permanent Early Voting List."

Hebert told Newsweek that the bill would remove about 200,000 people from the mail-in ballot list but noted that the figure is based on "our interpretation of the bill language," which lawmakers have said is unclear.

Flags fly at half-staff at the Arizona Capitol in honor the late Republican Senator John McCain on August 26, 2018, in Phoenix, Arizona. ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

The bill was introduced in the state Senate in January, more than seven months after the Supreme Court issued a decision in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute. The case revolved around the process Ohio used to regulate its voter rolls.

The state used a contentious policy known as the "supplemental process" to update state lists. Under the process, if voters didn't cast a ballot for two years, the state mails a notice seeking to confirm their address. If voters don't return the pre-paid flyer, the state then removed them from voter rolls.

Opponents of the policy argued that it violated the National Voting Registration Act of 1993, which expressly states that voters cannot be removed due to inactivity. The Supreme Court ruled that removing voters from polls for failing to respond to the flyer did not violate federal legislation.

David Vance, the National Media Strategist at government watchdog organization Common Cause, told Newsweek that the Husted decision had enabled state legislatures to use purges of rolls to suppress voters.

"In greenlighting Ohio's voter roll purges, the Husted ruling has inspired a variety of methods to remove voters from the polls for partisan gain," he said. "The Arizona bill is just the latest example of voter suppression tactics stemming from the Husted decision. It appears to be nothing more than another attempt by politicians to dictate who will vote and who won't for their own advantage. We should be looking for ways to get more Americans to vote, not making it more difficult for those that do vote to cast their ballots."