Saturday, February 16, 2013

Republicans and voting "reform": Even when they are trying to be subtle, they're like an elephant in a china shop

During the 2012 election cycle, there were many Republican-initiated moves across the country intended to inhibit or even block voting by groups that tend to not vote for them.

For example, here in Arizona we saw the Maricopa County Elections Department tell Spanish-speaking voters the wrong day for Election Day, the same elections department under-train staff and under-supply polling places in Democratic-leaning areas, leading to ballot shortages and long lines on Election Day, and a suspiciously interminable vote-counting process after the election.

The efforts brought forth a mixed bag of results.

Nationally, Barack Obama won reelection as President, and the number of Democrats in the US Senate surprisingly increased, while the Republicans retained a comfortable majority in the US House.

Locally, Democratic candidates won all three competitive Congressional seats here, and made small gains in the Arizona legislature, while the Republicans now control all statewide elected offices and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe "Bull Connor Jr." Arpaio won reelection comfortably.

Because of the lessons from the 2012 election cycle is that Republicans across the country are attempting to make systemic changes, to impose rule changes at local and state levels, to "stack the deck" in favor of Republican candidates.

In many of the states that tend to vote for Democrats in presidential elections but whose state governments are dominated by Republican, proposals to change the way electoral votes are allocated.  Instead of the current "winner take all" system, they want to change to a system where electoral votes are split between the major candidates, based on things like percentage of the popular vote or by congressional district.  However, no such proposals have been put forth in states that tend to favor Republican presidential candidates.

In other states with state governments dominated by Republicans, they've seen proposals to restrict voting by groups that tend to favor Democrats, all in the name of "reform"..

None of the schemes qualify as "subtle", and all of them have justifiably caused an uproar wherever they've be put forth.

Here in AZ, the Republicans have seemed to learn a bit of a lesson from all of that.

They're still trying to "stack the deck" here, so national Republicans should have no worries about backsliding on the part of the AZGOP.

They're mostly trying to be a little sneaky, even delicate, about it.

Of course, being who they are, their efforts are as sneaky and delicate as an elephant in the proverbial china shop.

Sen. Michelle Reagan (R-Scottsdale), an erstwhile 2014 candidate for AZ Secretary of State, is chair of the state senate's Elections Committee, and she is leading the way on this.  Many of the proposals under consideration here may not have her name on them, but she determines which of them move forward.

One of her own measures, SB1260, has already moved through her committee, passing unanimously.  It raises some of the adminstrative hurdles that have to be surmounted by people attempting to put a referendum or initiative question on the ballot.  However, the changes aren't huge ones, and some of them are (dare I say it?) reasonable.  Hence, its unanimous committee support.

Less reasonable is her SB1262, which seems to make "minor" changes to campaign finance law regarding recall elections.  It seeks to impose standard campaign finance restrictions on committees and contributors involved in the recall effort before the recall election is officially called (basically, while petitions are being circulated and haven't been submitted and certified).  In an of itself, that's not unreasonable - candidates for office face those limits even before they submit their own petitions.

However, that unfairly tilts the balance toward the elected officials who are the subject of recall campaigns.  The official who is the subject of a recall campaign is automatically on the ballot, so he/she does not have to incur expenses (or solicit contributions to pay for those expenses) before the recall election is scheduled.  The people who support the recall face a campaign limits clock that starts months before that date.  SB1262 has been agendized for the February 19 meeting of Senate Elections.

Also with some superficial merit is her SCR1006.  As written and if approved by the voters, it would amend the AZ Constitution to change the deadline for submitting petitions for ballot questions from four months prior to the election where the question will be on the ballot (for the vast majority of questions, this means the first Tuesday in July) to May 1.  In and of itself, that isn't a bad idea - for ballot questions, there are tens of thousands of pages with hundreds of thousands of signatures to go through and verify, and that's a heavy burden to bear for the professional staffs in the offices of the AZ SOS and AZ's county recorders.  However, while the bill rolls back the deadline to submit petitions, it doesn't similarly roll back the earliest date when signatures can start being collected for ballot questions (24 months before the measure is to be voted on).  In addition, Sen. Steve Gallardo (D-Phoenix) proposed an amendment to the measure which would have slightly reduced the number of signatures required for ballot questions, something that would both address easing the burden on the SOS and county recorders and the reduced time available to collect signatures.  However, when this bill was considered by Reagan's committee, she didn't just oppose the amendment, she used her position as chair to make sure that the amendment wasn't even considered.  Passed by the committee on a 5 - 2 vote. 

Note to readers:  Don't consider the presence of a Democrat on a bill's list of sponsors to be a sign that the bill may be a good one.  Sen. Robert Meza (D-Phoenix) has signed on to a number of these bills.  They're still crap.

And with a veneer of merit that's measured in microns (millionths of a meter):  Reagan's SB1416 and SCR1019.  Those are related measures that would require that signatures needed for proposed ballot questions and by new parties seeking direct ballot access be collected from at least five counties (not unreasonable) and that at least forty percent of the signatures be collected from counties other than Pima and Maricopa.  Both measures are agendized for the February 19 meeting of Senate Elections.

Which doesn't sound too bad, until you think on it for oh, about a tenth of a second, and remember that 75% of the state's population is in those two counties, as are more than 74% of the state's registered voters.

In addition to placing a statistical overemphasis on rural voters for the purpose of gaining access to the ballot for potential ballot question and new parties, her measures would elevate the financial and logistical hurdles for the folks behind ballot questions/new parties.

That all pales next to her striker, or strike-everything amendment, to SB1003 that seeks to make returning an early ballot by someone who is not an immediate family member a felony.  This directly attacks the many Democratic-supporting campaigns and organizations who do just that as part of their "get out the vote" efforts.

The amended SB1003 passed Senate Elections on a party-line vote.

Tom Prezelski (Tomski?) of Rum, Romanism and Rebellion offers his take on Reagan's efforts to "reform" voting and elections here.

Steve Muratore of Arizona Eagletarian has more info on developments related to some of the bills mentioned in this post here.

Julie Erfle of Politics Uncuffed offers her observations on one of Reagan's measures here.

And Reagan is one of the more "reasonable" and "professional" members of the Republican caucus of the legislature.

By comparison, Rep. Jeff Dial (R-Chandler) has proposed HB2568.  His measure starts off by changing the nominating signature requirements for candidates in a way that favors Republicans statewide, and favors majority party candidates in districts dominated by a single party.  Under current law, the number of signatures required for a candidate to be nominated to a party's primary ballot is based on a percentage of the relevant party's registered voters in the area to be represented by the office up for election.  He proposes to cut the required percentage to one-third of the current level, but to increase the "denominator" of the equation by approximately three times by making the total number of voters in the district the base.

For example, if under current law, if a candidate of party X is running in a district with 10,000 voters, 3000 of whom are registered in party X needs signatures from 1% of his party's voters to get on the ballot, 30 signatures would be needed.  Under Dial's proposal, he'd need 1/3 of 1% of 10,000, or 33, signatures.

In an example where the district has 10,000 voters and party X has 5000 registrants, the required number of signatures would go from 50 down to 33.

Statewide, partisan registration percentages are approximately 36% Republican, 30% Democratic, 0.16% Green, and 0.73% Libertarian.

In short, Dial's scheme would make it easier for Republicans statewide and in most legislative and Congressional districts to get on the ballot and, except for the few Democratic-dominated districts, more difficult for Democrats to get on the ballot.  On the other hand, Greens and Libertarians would be completely blocked from ballot access.  Partisan nominating petitions must be signed by members of the relevant political party, and Dial's proposal would raise their signature requirements to a number greater than the number of members of those parties.

And that is the "less bad" part of Dial's proposal.

Part of his proposal would mandate removal from the permanent early voters list (PEVL) anyone who lives in a home whose ownership is transferred by a "trustee's deed of sale" (aka - foreclosed).  People who haven't moved as a result of the foreclosure would be forced to re-register to vote and ask for an early ballot twice before before they could receive a ballot.

HB2568 was held by the House Judiciary Committee during its February 14 meeting.

Of course, it's not just Reagan and Dial -

- Rep. Michelle Ugenti (R-Scottsdale) has HB2527.  Current law covering polling places allows electioneering activities outside of a 75-foot buffer zone outside the actual area where voting takes place.  The same law allows for certain exceptions where "emergency conditions" exist that make electioneering problematical.  The exceptions tend to be school facilities.  Ugenti's proposal would remove the part of the law that allow for exemptions to the electioneering allowance, meaning that the buildings would have to allow electioneering, or not serve as polling places.

A bad bill, but it shows a sort of subtlety for which AZ Republicans aren't known.

Passed by the House Judiciary Committee by a party-line vote.  Next up:  House Government.

- Sen. Chester Crandell (R-LD6 ) has SB1274.  Currently, early ballots can be returned by mail at any time, so long as they are received by the county elections department by the time polls close on Election Day (7 p.m.) or they can be dropped off at any polling place in the county on Election Day.  Crandell's proposal would remove the ability of voters with early ballots to drop them off at a polling place.  In addition, the ballots would have to be received by the Elections Department by 7 p.m. on the Tuesday the week BEFORE the election. 

Agendized for the February 19 meeting of Senate Elections.

- Rep Carl Seel (R-Birtherland) has HB2350.  Currently, a voter who want to be on the PEVL or simply to receive an early ballot for a single election simply complete and sign the appropriate request form.  Seel's proposal would raise the hurdle that voters need to climb over by requiring that signatures on such forms be notarized first.  In addition, any people who are currently on the PEVL would be removed from the list if they don't send in a notarized request form within two election cycles (four years).

- Seel also has HCR2013.  Currently, the state constitution mandates that a primary election be held for most elected offices.  Seel's proposal would change that to allow closed party caucuses to nominate candidates to the general election ballot.  "Closed" means "no independents allowed".

- Rep. David Stevens (R-Sierra Vista) has HCR2008.  Currently, the state constitution mandates that elections for most offices be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.  Stevens' proposal would amend the state constitution to mandate that "a candidate who wins the primary election for that office and who has no write-in or other opposition for that office at the general election shall be deemed and declared the winner of the general election."END_STATUTE""

The change would not apply to candidates for federal office.  However, it is written so broadly and vaguely that a shamelessly partisan/enthusiastically efficient election official (your choice about which term you prefer) would have cover for bypassing the election and simply declaring a favored candidate the winner.

Many, even most, of these measures won't pass...initially.  However, until the legislative session is over, the language from any of these bills can be air-dropped into another bill in the form of a striker at any time.  This is a situation that requires ongoing vigilance.

And active memories. 

All of the people who are pushing the above "reforms" will be going before the voters in 2014; that offers a perfect opportunity to advise them of the error of their ways.

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