ARIZONA

Arizona Court of Appeals rejects state GOP party effort to end early voting

Mary Jo Pitzl
Arizona Republic
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Arizona's early voting system is constitutional, the state Court of Appeals has ruled, upholding a popular voting method used widely across the state.

The ruling, issued Tuesday, is the second legal defeat on the issue for the Arizona Republican Party and its chair, Kelli Ward, who last year sued to eliminate early voting before the 2022 elections.

The three-judge appeals court rejected the party's argument that mail-in voting violates the secrecy clause in the state Constitution, which requires that voters must have a way to conceal their choices on the ballot.

The state's mail-in, or early voting, process does provide secrecy, the court found, "by requiring voters to ensure that they fill out their ballot in secret and seal the ballot in an envelope that does not disclose the voters' choices."

The ruling comes months after a Mohave County Superior Court judge tossed the party's case.

It is unclear if the party will appeal this finding to the Arizona Supreme Court. A spokesperson for the party did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and the party is scheduled to elect a new chairman later this month. Ward has indicated she will not seek a third term.

Last year, the party tried to take its case directly to the Supreme Court to settle the issue before the 2022 elections. The court rejected that petition, suggesting the matter should start in a superior court.

Arizona lawmakers created early, or mail-in, voting in 1991. It has grown in popularity, becoming the dominant form of voting, whether voters return the ballot by mail or drop it off at the polls in a sealed envelope on election day.

More bills to change voting; most would face veto

Lawmakers in the recently convened legislative session are eyeing changes to the longstanding practice. The most sweeping change would eliminate early voting and require voters to cast all ballots on Election Day, with exceptions for absent military and overseas voters, the visually impaired, or voters who are hospitalized or in a nursing home.

The return to limited absentee voting is one of many election changes proposed by freshman Rep. Liz Harris, R-Chandler, in House Bill 2232. Other provisions include elimination of ballot tabulation machines, a mandate to hand count ballots, removal of vote centers and a requirement that election precincts cover no more than 1,500 voters and that polling places should not change unless voters are given two years' notice.

The bill has not yet been assigned to any committee. Such changes stand virtually no chance of becoming law with Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, a former secretary of state, ultimately deciding which bills to sign or veto.

Other bills deal with signature requirements for early ballots. There are a number of technical correction bills dealing with elections from freshman Rep. Alexander Kolodin, who as an attorney in private practice has represented the Republican Party in its early voting challenge.

Technical correction bills often serve as placeholders for measures that lawmakers might want to introduce after the bill filing deadline.

Reach the reporter at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @maryjpitzl.

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