Arizona Legislature Passes Bill to Fix Elections Timeline, but Adds Some Restrictive Provisions 

UPDATE: On Feb. 9, Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) signed the bill into law.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Yesterday, the Arizona Legislature, on bipartisan lines, overwhelmingly passed an urgently needed bill that would move the primary date up by a week and give counties a longer period to tally votes in order to ensure the state’s electoral votes are counted and that overseas and military voters could receive their ballots on time.

The issues pertaining to election timelines in the state stem from a 2022 law that changed the recount threshold in the state. Previously, elections only went to an automatic recount if margins were within .1%. Arizona law now mandates an automatic recount if the margins are within .5%, a significant change and one that would have sent the state’s 2020 presidential results into a recount. 

Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature have been scrambling to meet today’s deadline to make changes, which election officials across the state have repeatedly warned was the absolute latest that alterations could be made in order to ensure timelines are met. Officials have argued that without more time to count ballots, a time-consuming recount could result in military and overseas voters being sent ballots after a federally mandated deadline and that the state could even miss the deadline to certify its presidential election results — an event that would have the potential to rid the state of its voice in the Electoral College.

Democrats and voting advocates had fought strongly for what they called a “clean fix” — their bill would have focused on solving the timeline problems without making any additional policy changes. Republicans meanwhile aimed to exploit the timeline issue by tying any fix to a slew of partisan goals, some of which would restrict voting rights. Hobbs had pledged to “not sign a bill that’s filled with harmful unrelated legislation or that hurts voters’ right to have their voice heard at the ballot box.”

The bill that passed 56-2 in the House and 24-2 in the Senate yesterday is not the “clean fix” Democrats had sought — the legislation would shorten the cure period that allows voters to fix missing signatures on early ballots from five business days to five calendar days for federal elections, while voters in state and local elections will have just three business days. Importantly, these changes only apply for the 2024, 2025 and 2026 elections. Recorders’ offices would also have to be open during regular business hours on the weekend following the election in order for voters to be able to cure their ballots.

The bill additionally enshrines some signature verification standards, changes that are not needed to ensure timelines are met. If a voter’s signature on their early ballot envelope does not match what is listed on their registration or is not listed at all, and if efforts by officials and the voter to rectify the discrepancy are unsuccessful, the ballot will be rejected.

Other changes would:

  • Require daily updates from the start of early voting through the Monday before Election Day to be sent to political parties detailing lists of voters whose ballots need signature curing, 
  • Permit early voting through 7 p.m. on the Friday before Election Day — the previous time was 5 p.m. and
  • Beginning in 2026, allow for voters to bypass signature verification by submitting an early ballot in person along with ID.

Republicans didn’t get everything they wanted either as Democrats managed to strip the bill of more stringent signature verification requirements and leave out a requirement mandating that those voting with an early ballot on Election Day provide proof of ID. 

In the last two weeks alone, Republicans have filed two separate lawsuits challenging portions of the state’s election policies. Republican legislative leaders are challenging portions of the state’s new Elections Procedures Manual, while Stephen Miller’s America First Legal Foundation is going after a host of election procedures in Maricopa County, including those relating to signature verification.

In regards to the timeline itself, the state’s primary election will be temporarily moved from Aug. 6 to July 30, 2024 and counties will have an extra 19 days to prepare after the primary along with an extra 17 days of space for the general election. The timeline changes would revert back in 2026.

In the end, both parties largely celebrated the bill’s package. Hobbs said the legislation “isn’t perfect,” but the “result of hard-fought compromises from every involved.” She is likely to sign the bill. Republicans on the other hand praised the legislation as a win for “election integrity” and argued they didn’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.

Read the bill here.

Track the status of the bill here.