Feb 8, 2024 - News

Bipartisan compromise avoids election deadline crisis

Illustration of a repeating pattern of handshakes.

Illustration: Victoria Ellis/Axios

Arizona Republicans and Democrats reached a last-minute deal Thursday that will prevent the state from missing critical elections deadlines this year and ensure its electoral votes are counted.

  • It was a rare example of compromise on an issue that has dramatically polarized the two parties in recent years.

Why it matters: Before this new bill, if there had been a recount in the presidential election in November, Arizona could have missed the Dec. 11 deadline established by the Electoral Count Reform Act.

  • Plus: Primary recount timing could've prevented military and other overseas voters from getting their ballots in time for the general.

Be smart: Ballot counting in Arizona is often prolonged because of the process for verifying early ballots that voters drop off on Election Day.

The big picture: The compromise comes in response to a 2022 Republican-led law that expanded the margin of victory that requires automatic recounts after Donald Trump's narrow loss to Joe Biden didn't trigger one.

  • Election officials have been warning that the law's timing left open the possibility that recounts could prevent military and overseas voters from receiving ballots in time — and mean the state's electoral votes might not be counted.

What's next: Gov. Katie Hobbs plans to sign the bill Friday, spokesperson Christian Slater told reporters.

  • "While this legislation isn't perfect, it's the result of hard-fought compromises from everyone involved.”
  • “Arizonans can rest assured that their voices will be heard and that our elections will run free of political interference," Hobbs said in a press statement.

Driving the news: The compromise that passed nearly unanimously through both chambers — four Republicans voted against it — also included:

  • Requiring election offices to stay open on the weekend after elections for verification of signatures on early ballots dropped off on Election Day this year. The "curing" period for signatures will revert to five business days from five calendar days after 2026.
  • Temporarily moving the primary to July 30 for this year.
  • Codifying early ballot signature verification procedures into statute.

What they're saying: Rep. Alexander Kolodin, R-Scottsdale, the lead Republican negotiator, said during the House vote that the bill isn't perfect but that it makes meaningful reforms and "2024 will be different than 2020 and 2022 because this will be the law."

Context: Election officials told lawmakers they needed this fix passed by Friday with a two-thirds supermajority so it could go into effect immediately.

The intrigue: Hobbs last year vetoed a bill with similar signature verification procedures.

  • Negotiations were almost derailed after she deemed the procedures and some other provisions dead on arrival.

Yes, but: Kolodin called the signature verification provision a major win for election integrity.

  • He also touted a provision allowing voters to show ID when they drop off early ballots in person so they can be counted without signature verification.
  • Another new policy will give political parties access to data that'll help ensure voters' signatures are verified.

Meanwhile: Senate Minority Leader Mitzi Epstein (D-Tempe) said Democrats were pleased by the removal of another Republican proposal — permanently moving primaries to May — from the final bill.

  • Plus, she said, the caucus was satisfied with how the amendment clarifies signature verification requirements to make them less strict.
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