Hobbs, Republicans agree on election timeline fix

What began the week as a political showdown ended as a compromise that will allow Arizona to avoid an impending election timeline issue that threatened to leave overseas and military voters disenfranchised and the state’s choice for president not being counted.  

On Tuesday, the Senate and House convened a special meeting to hear two bills aimed at addressing issues stemming from a 2022 law greatly expanding when an automatic recount is triggered that Arizona counties and election officials said would disenfranchise military voters. The near certainty that recounts will happen in both the primary and general elections meant the state would miss important deadlines after each election. Following the primary election, the state would risk missing the federal deadline to mail ballots to residents who live overseas, most of whom are military members. And after the general election, it meant the state was likely to miss the deadline for sending the state’s presidential electors to Congress. 

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The legislation introduced when the week began and heard by legislative committees on Tuesday was spearheaded by Republicans, who forged ahead after months of negotiations with Gov. Katie Hobbs had failed to result in an agreement on how to solve the problems. Hobbs quickly said the GOP bill would be dead on arrival if it included policy changes they insisted were deal-breakers for them, among them some that Hobbs vetoed in 2023. 

But the bill prompted renewed negotiations and ultimately an agreement. By Thursday, the bill sailed through formal votes in the Arizona Senate and House of Representatives, winning nearly unanimous support, and Hobbs praised the bill’s passage. 

“I am proud that a strong bipartisan deal passed to secure free and fair elections, protect voters’ rights and ensure overseas military members will have their voices heard at the ballot box,” Hobbs said in a written statement. “I appreciate the legislators who stood firm to protect voters and remove partisan politics from this bill. While this legislation isn’t perfect, it’s the result of hard-fought compromises from everyone involved.” 

The fix, while receiving broad bipartisan backing, was still derided by some on both sides of the aisle who grumbled about the compromises made, even as they agreed that the fix was needed. 

Republicans and Democratic members of the legislature have been negotiating a fix to the issue since summer of 2023, and county elections officials had said it needed to be done by Friday to take effect in time for this year’s elections. 

“No one got everything they wanted, everyone had to meet in the middle,” Rep. Oscar De Los Santos, a Phoenix Democrat and the assistant minority leader, told his colleagues during Thursday’s vote. 

A number of changes that Republicans initially proposed were eventually removed from the bill, including moving the state’s primary election to May beginning in 2026, requiring all public schools to serve as polling places and tightening standards for signature verification of early ballots that voting rights advocates said was too harsh. 

“We are grateful that Governor Hobbs and Republican and Democrat leaders at the Legislature found a way forward to protect the ballot for military and overseas voters and to ensure that Arizona has a voice in the Presidential race,” Jen Marson, the executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties, said in a statement to the Arizona Mirror. 

The measure required the support of a supermajority of lawmakers so it would take effect immediately instead of 90 days after the end of the legislative session. 

Democratic legislators had said from the start that they were aiming for a “clean fix” to the recount law — most wanted to essentially repeal the change made in 2022 — that did not add any additional policy changes. Still, Democrats celebrated the passage of the measure in the new form, which removed or changed many of the concerns they had with the original GOP measure. 

“Our goal was a clean fix, and this bill comes very close,” House Democratic Leader Lupe Contreras said in a press release. “It’s not perfect, but it is a true bi-partisan compromise that will protect voters and help keep our elections free, fair, and secure.” 

Only four members of the legislature, all Republicans, voted against the bill:  Reps  Barbara Parker and Jacquline Parker and Sens. Anthony Kern and Jake Hoffman. 

Voting rights advocates applauded the bill’s passage, as well, saying that the bill will give counties “stability” and expands access to early voting with measures that ensure voting centers are open later and improving notices for ballots that need to be cured. 

“Even in the face of MAGA Republicans willing to hold our elections and military voters hostage so they can invalidate legal votes, Democrats and the Governor held the line to protect and even expand voter access,” the left-leaning Opportunity Arizona said in a press release. 

Rep. Alexander Kolodin, the Scottsdale Republican and election attorney who has been the primary force on the bill, told his colleagues Thursday that the bill is a win for “election integrity” and the grassroots of the Republican Party. 

“It is real, it is meaningful. 2024 will be different than 2020 and 2022 because this is the law,” he said. 

Kolodin acknowledged that Republicans gave up on things they “did not want to give up.” 

In a caucus meeting on Wednesday, he said that they finally had “leverage” to obtain election law changes that Hobbs would otherwise oppose, but conceded that some things had to be dropped during the negotiations.

Last year, Kolodin was sanctioned for election lawsuits he brought in Arizona following the 2020 election. The joint Senate and House committee which heard Kolodin’s bill Tuesday refused to let Democratic members ask if the changes the bill made will impact any litigation he or others may be involved in. 

Republican lawmakers said that their intention is to make sure counties are not “rushing” when it comes to certain procedures if timelines are crunched. They specifically cited signature verification, which was a key point in failed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake’s lawsuit aiming to overturn the 2022 election results. 

“Politics is the art of the possible, and when Republicans stick together, we can achieve the impossible, like getting Katie Hobbs to sign real election reforms into law,” Kolodin said in a press release after the bill’s passage in the House. “Arizona’s voters can rest assured that the 2024 election will be more secure, free, and fair than those that have gone before.”

Republicans pointed to new provisions in the law that will go into effect in 2026 that allow voters who bring their early ballot to the polls on election day to be able to have their vote counted immediately after showing identification. State buildings will also now be made available as polling places starting in 2026. 

“It was a lot of effort. A lot of input. A lot of communication and I am happy to say Arizona will deliver its electors on time,” Senate President Warren Petersen said when voting for on the bill Thursday.

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