Efforts by Arizona Republican lawmakers to overhaul the early voting process and fight election fraud have drawn criticism from Democrats and civic groups who fear the proposed changes would limit turnout among the state's growing Hispanic electorate.
At least seven bills were proposed in the Senate and House this year in an effort to adjust the early voting process. One measure would remove voters from the permanent early-voting list if they don't vote by mail and fail to respond to a notice.
Republican legislators argue that they must rework Arizona's early voting process to combat unlawful votes and reduce confusion at the polls.
Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, has been behind several of the measures. That included legislation that would make it a felony for anyone other than a relative who lives with the voter to deliver an early ballot for them.
Although the full senate amended the bill Thursday, resulting in that piece of the proposed legislation being removed, Reagan questioned the chain of custody process for early ballots earlier in the week.
"We have a chain of custody in place for ballots once they go to the polling center. They're treated like they're sacred," Reagan said last week in defense of the bill. "But yet we're just going to allow people to go collect laundry baskets full of ballots and drop them off?"
Many of the remaining measures have moved forward despite protest from Democratic and Hispanic lawmakers who claim the changes seek to disenfranchise Hispanic and low-income voters who tend to vote Democratic. Republicans slightly outnumber Democratic and independent voters in Arizona. Most Latino voters in Arizona backed President Barack Obama in 2012, according to exit polls.
"It's about shutting it down — How can they slow down the number of Latinos who are voting early?" state Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said.
Barbara Klein, president of the League of Women Voters of Arizona, said she is particularly concerned about the measure seeking to trim the early-voting list because it would apply to voters who did not vote an early ballot as far back as in the 2010 primary and general elections, potentially erasing any gains in Latino voter turnout in recent years.
But Reagan, the bill's sponsor, said election officials requested the change because they are overwhelmed by voters casting provisional ballots at the polls after receiving a mail ballot. Voters removed from the early-voting list would remain registered to vote.
Maricopa County's elections director Karen Osborne said mail ballots are increasingly popular, but some voters complained last year that they received mail ballots after someone else requested it for them without their consent.
"We don't want to go to the expense and time of having someone get an early ballot who doesn't want it," Osborne said.
However, Osborne said she doesn't support the measure demanding notarized signatures for early voters because it could disenfranchise voters.
The number of Latino voters on the state's early-voting list more than doubled from 2008 to 2012, according to Mi Familia Vota, a Phoenix-based organization that helps register voters. Nearly 20 percent of Arizona voters are Latino, according to exit polls and Mi Familia Vota estimates.
"It's a lot easier," said Ben Monterroso, the organization's executive director, of early voting. "They don't have to be looking for the (poll) location. Nobody needs to be rushing."