Arizona Legislature Amends Elections Timeline To Include Earlier Primary

The Arizona Legislature reached a consensus on Thursday to extend the deadline for counties to count votes. This decision was made in response to concerns raised by county officials about the 2022 law change, which could potentially hinder their ability to finish tallying votes on time in the event of a close election that triggers a mandatory recount.

The Republican-controlled Legislature has unanimously passed a solution that will be forwarded to Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs for her signature. According to her office, Governor Hobbs intends to approve the measure, which must be implemented by Friday. This fix will impact Arizona’s primary election in the summer and the general election in the fall, but it will not have any effect on the state’s presidential primary on March 19.

For months, county officials have been cautioning that if they do not receive additional time, Arizona may not meet federal deadlines for mailing general election ballots to military and overseas voters and certifying the state’s voting results. The officials are anticipating a rise in mandatory recounts.

According to counties, the deadline for making changes before the primary becomes impossible is Friday.

The House has approved a proposal that would allow counties to have additional time of 19 days after primaries and 17 days after general elections to tally votes. This decision was influenced by a 2022 regulation that raised the requirement for recounts, now only occurring when candidates are within 0.5% of one another. Previously, a mandatory recount was triggered when the margin was one-tenth of 1%.

The 2020 presidential election in Arizona resulted in a victory for Democrat Joe Biden with a margin of 10,457 votes over Republican Donald Trump. However, this did not meet the criteria for an automatic recount. If the current threshold had been in place, a compulsory recount would have been triggered for the race.

The proposed legislation would also advance the primary election date in Arizona from August 6th to July 30th, changing the timeframe for voters to remedy early ballots without signatures from five business days to five calendar days. Additionally, it establishes legal guidelines for verifying ballot signatures. According to Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen, this measure ensures that Arizona will be able to submit its electors on schedule for future elections.

GOP members argue that the implementation of signature verification standards was necessary to prevent any violations of the protocols and meet the required deadline. They highlight that these standards were previously outlined in a 2020 guide on signature verification, which was released by Hobbs during her tenure as Arizona’s secretary of state.

Hobbs rejected a bill in 2023 that aimed to establish the minimum requirements for comparing signatures, as stated in the guide. In her letter explaining the veto, she suggested that it would be more fitting to incorporate these standards in the state’s elections procedure manual or in guidance provided by the secretary of state’s office.