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Lone GOP lawmaker joins Democrats to block Arizona voter suppression bill

The bill would have kicked roughly 200,000 voters off of a list that lets them vote absentee in every election.

By Emily Singer - April 23, 2021
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Arizona state Rep. Kelly Townsend

GOP state lawmakers in Arizona are up in arms after one Republican member of the state Senate blocked a voter suppression bill that would have purged roughly 200,000 voters off of a permanent absentee ballot list.

Republican state Sen. Kelly Townsend shocked her fellow GOP lawmakers when she voted against S.B. 1485, a bill that would remove voters from a list that lets them receive absentee ballots for every election if they do not vote in two consecutive contests.

The bill had already passed the state House on Tuesday, and if it had passed in the state Senate would have headed to GOP Gov. Doug Ducey’s signature — though he had yet to signal whether he would have signed it or not.

Townsend’s “no” meant the bill failed on a vote of 15-15 tie, with every Democrat joining Townsend in voting against the legislation. Republicans have just a two-seat majority in the state Senate, and since Arizona does not have a lieutenant governor to break a tie, the bill went down.

Townsend said she voted against the legislation because she wanted to see the results of an audit Republicans in the state Senate are conducting of the state’s largest county. Even Republicans have panned the audit as unnecessary and prone to error. And it’s being run by a Donald Trump-supporting conspiracy theorist who has pushed lies about voter fraud.

But Republicans were still furious with her.

“It’s disappointing to be on the receiving end of someone’s temper tantrum,” GOP state Sen. Michelle Ugenti said, according to local Arizona reporter Ben Giles.

Republicans could still bring up the bill again, though at the moment it is unclear if they will.

Voting rights activists, as well as Democrats in Arizona, have panned the legislation that would purge the permanent early voting list. Roughly 75% of voters in the state are on that list to get absentee ballots in every election, with 80% of the state voting by mail in the 2020 election, ABC News reported.

However, Republicans across the country have been seeking to make it harder to vote by mail, as Trump falsely blamed the voting method in part for his loss to President Joe Biden.

An increase in voting by mail did not lead to Trump’s loss, with a recent study showing that voting by mail does not favor one party over the other.

However, Trump has demanded changes to absentee voting — which GOP lawmakers in state legislatures across the country have been working to do.

If Arizona purges its permanent early voting list of voters who do not vote in two consecutive elections, it would likely impact younger and independent voters the most, according to an analysis from Sam Almy, a Democratic strategist in Arizona.

According to his analysis, voters between the ages of 25 and 24 would “make up 34% of removals” from the early voting list. Almy added, “Of that age group over 50% are Independent voters.”

Exit polling shows those groups in Arizona favored Biden in the 2020 election, including voters aged 18-29, who voted for Biden over Trump by a 63% to 32% margin, according to exit poll data. And independent voters in the state voted for Biden over Trump 53% to 44%, the exit poll data found.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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