Democrats criticize voting law that is said to help the Republican Party - News - Explorer

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Democrats criticize voting law that is said to help the Republican Party

Tom Horne a focus in one part of bill

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Randy Metcalf/The Explorer

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PHOENIX -- Gov. Jan Brewer penned her approval Wednesday to a series of changes in voting laws that Democrats and others say are designed to give her Republican Party an edge in future elections.

The legislation, which will take effect later this year, sets up a procedure to stop sending early ballots to voters who have not used them in two election cycles.

Rep. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, said the people this is most likely to affect are voters who are newly signed up through registration drives, voters who, at least initially, may be less in the habit of voting. And those voters, he said, are most likely Democrats.

That contention is disputed by Sen. Michele Regan, R-Scottsdale. She said the highest number of people who have ignored their early ballots -- and would be subject to no longer getting them in the mail -- are in her Scottsdale legislative district.

But Reagan conceded the reason for this could be the high number of home foreclosures in the district, with ballots mailed to people who are no longer there.

The new law also makes it a crime for members of those very groups who do the voter registration drives to pick up someone's early ballot and take it to the polls for them.

Reagan said letting strangers handle ballots, even in sealed envelopes, is an invitation for fraud. And she pointed out that the law still allows voters to give their ballots to relatives or friends.

Quezada, however, said it undermines the work of community groups who are trying to get out the vote.

The measure also contains language designed to make it easier for foes of voter-proposed laws to block them from appearing on the ballot.

Under current law, initiative petitions need be only in "substantial compliance'' with the law. That means innocent mistakes that do not materially affect an initiative can be overlooked.

This law says there must be "strict compliance,'' allowing those who do not want what initiative organizers have proposed to knock the measures off the ballot even before voters get a chance to weigh in.

This is more than an academic question.

Last year's Proposition 204, to create a permanent 1-cent hike in sales taxes, was allowed to remain on the ballot after the Arizona Supreme Court concluded backers had substantially complied with what the law requires. Had this measure been in place, the measure never would have gotten to voters.

The legislation also contains one very usual -- and retroactive -- measure aimed at Attorney General Tom Horne.

Under current law, any allegations the secretary of state has about campaign finance violations go to the Attorney General's Office.

Last year, though, when Secretary of State Ken Bennett had allegations involving Horne, he asked Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery to investigate. But a judge ruled earlier this year that procedure was illegal, directing Bennett to send the case to Horne.

The judge said he presumes that Horne will forward the case to another county attorney. But lawmakers said that still gives Horne the option of choosing who will investigate him.

The law now says Bennett can send the case to the local county attorney automaticlaly if the target of the investigation is the attorney general. And to make sure it applies to the ongoing inquiry, the provision is retroactive until last July 31.

Horne is accused of illegally coordinating his 2010 campaign with what was billed as an independent committee being headed by Kathleen Winn.

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The new legislation also alters the requirement for how many signatures congressional and legislative candidates need to get their names on the ballot. While the number is close to the same for Republicans and Democrats, it sharply boosts the requirement for minor parties.

During the floor debate, Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said he was concerned that minor party candidates has siphoned votes away from Republicans in at least one and possibly two congressional campaigns last year, resulting in Democrats winning both races.

The legislation proved so important that Daniel Scarpinato, press aide to the National Republican Congressional Committee, actually called one state senator to get him to change his "no'' vote on the measure to ensure that it was approved.

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