Originally Published: February 16, 2016 6 a.m.
One of the pet projects of the Republican Party is its fight against voter fraud.
Everyone agrees that for the sake of our form of government and way of life, our elections must be clean and free of corruption. However, not everyone agrees how widespread voter fraud is.
Although some partisan studies, such as those done by the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, claim voter fraud is rampant in this country, most nonpartisan studies have concluded that voter fraud is a very rare occurrence.
Many Republican lawmakers dismiss the nonpartisan studies and choose to believe our elections have been taken over by unscrupulous operatives (i.e. the Democratic Party) whom they accuse of bolstering their voter rolls with non-citizens and dead people.
This fear of rampant voter fraud has led Arizona Republicans to introduce a measure to outlaw something commonly referred to as “ballot harvesting.”
The bill sponsored by Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, would make it a Class 6 felony for anyone but a family member, roommate, caregiver, postal worker or candidate to collect early ballots from another person.
On the surface, it sounds like a reasonable measure.
“It protects the integrity of our electoral process,” Ugenti-Rita said, according to an Associated Press story. “I don’t think you should be in the business of collecting someone else’s ballot. That is not a good practice.”
However, the bill’s opponents say the measure is unnecessary and will prevent many legitimate voters from casting ballots.
Democrats are concerned the bill limits voter participation for working families in rural areas that have limited access to mailboxes and post offices, according to the AP story, which quoted Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, who said more than 10,000 people in her district in San Luis would be disenfranchised.
“I don’t think a lot of people in this body understand what it is like to live in a rural area,” Fernandez said. “I want you to think about those people that can’t always go to the polls, that might be in wheelchair, that might be in a wheelchair and not have a caregiver.”
The bill’s supporters have offered no evidence that ballot collecting leads to voter fraud. In fact, the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office says there is no evidence of voter fraud involving early ballot collection.
So, if there is no evidence of voter fraud involving ballot collection, and most ballot collection is done by activist groups that support Democratic candidates, then it appears the bill is aimed at suppressing Democratic Party voters.
Historically, the Democratic Party has been more actively involved than the Republican Party in getting people registered and then getting those registered voters out to vote by providing services such as helping them get to their polling places or by collecting and delivering their early ballots.
Perhaps rather than passing laws that prevent services that encourage more voter participation, Republicans should provide similar services for their party’s registered voters.
— Jim Painter, news editor