PHOENIX — Calling a referendum drive misleading, a state senator has launched a campaign to keep voters from overturning extensive changes to voting laws made by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, wants to collect funds to counter the petition drive that would force a public vote on the provisions of HB 2305. The provisions range from allowing election officials to stop sending early ballots to some voters, to putting potential new legal hurdles in the path of people who want to propose their own state laws and constitutional amendments.
Reagan said each of the sections helps ensure the integrity and fairness of elections.
The senator would not say who will fund her effort, dubbed "Protect Our Secret Ballot.” But Reagan said she has been in contact with officials of the Arizona Republican Party and local GOP organizations.
Referendum proponents — foes of Reagan's legislation — already have a jump-start.
New campaign finance reports show the United Food and Commercial Workers Union already has contributed $50,000 to help gather the signatures to put the issue on the 2014 ballot. The Arizona Education Association has added another $25,000.
If they get 86,405 valid signatures before Sept. 13, the changes approved by the Legislature will be placed on hold, and voters will get the last word at the 2014 election.
Reagan said she is reaching out to Republicans because the issue has taken on partisan overtones. She noted the Arizona Democratic Party has been active in promoting the referendum.
Democrat lawmakers and officials contend that changes to laws on early ballots could end up disenfranchising the poor as well as both new and elderly voters.
"I'd like to have a counter,'' Reagan said.
Part of the fight is over early ballots.
State law allows individuals to sign up for the "permanent early voter list.” That guarantees they will get a ballot mailed to them ahead of every election.
Some county election officials complained that large numbers of people who were mailed early ballots did not use them and instead showed up at the polls. That required they be given provisional ballots that were set aside and counted separately only after going through procedures to ensure that these people had not also sent in that early ballot.
Reagan's legislation says those who do not use their early ballots for two election cycles, retroactive to 2012, will get a card saying they will be removed from the list without taking some affirmative action.
The bigger concern among some community groups is the measure makes it a crime for their members to pick up early ballots from voters and take them to the polls. Foes of the law say these groups help increase voter awareness and turnout.
Reagan, however, said that should not be allowed.
"Voting is a personal thing,” she said.
"It's private, it's important,” Reagan continued, saying ballots "are not supposed to be rounded up like a bunch of playing cards.”
Reagan is not just fighting the Democrats. The state's Libertarian and Green parties also are trying to kill the law because of a provision that requires candidates for minor parties to get as many signatures on partisan primary nominating petitions as Republicans or Democrats, even if membership in those parties is far smaller.
But Reagan said these minor parties can still get necessary signatures from registered independents who make up about a third of the state's registered voters.