Opinion by By Doris Marie Provine in the Arizona Republic
The House Judiciary Committee last week voted to repeal House Bill 2305, a controversial omnibus election law passed in the final moments of last year’s legislative session.
Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, who introduced the repeal bill, claimed to be listening to the voters who had gathered more than enough signatures to hold the law in abeyance and subject it to a referendum in November. The rest of the Legislature is likely to agree to kill HB 2305, if only to avoid the referendum.
What happens next? There are fears that the Republican majority will adopt pieces of HB 2305 in new legislation and thus negate the chance for citizens to exercise their constitutional right to decide the issue.
To allay these fears, at the repeal hearing Rep. Justin Pierce suggested that the Legislature step back, take a breather and not create any new election laws this session. Several other members of the Judiciary Committee seemed inclined to agree with this approach.
We strongly urge all members of the Legislature to commit themselves to no action on election laws this session. A break from legislative “fixes” would provide a window of opportunity for another conversation that needs to occur, one among people who desire fair, non-politicized, efficient elections.
The Secretary of State should bring together our hard-working county recorders and elections personnel, the equally hard-working get-out-the-vote volunteers who dedicate themselves to expanding the electorate, and organizational representatives with expertise in this area. The goal of such an unprecedented conversation should be a consensus on needed reforms.
There are risks, of course, that such a conversation would suck time and resources from needed advocacy and other work, but this is an approach that needs to be tried in good faith because the interests of those who are trying to increase access to the ballot and those who administer elections are actually closely aligned. The problem is that these groups have never worked closely together before.
The design and administration of elections should not be a partisan issue. As the recent report of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration recently stated, “election administration must be viewed as a subject of sound public administration.”
This commission, co-chaired by members of the Romney and Obama campaigns, and containing a representative from our own Maricopa County, provides a starting point for the discussion that needs to occur. The commission offered experience-based ideas for modernizing registration, improving access to the polls, and enhancing efficiency and security through new technologies and training.
The history of HB 2305 illustrates the importance of getting politics out of election administration. The bill raised objections from voting-rights advocates, even in its earliest, relatively simple form. Just before its passage, many new, arguably indefensible provisions were added with no public discussion.
The whole saga illustrates the need for a different approach.
Bringing everyone to the table and pushing for a much-needed exchange of ideas and final resolution is essential. Just as important is a pledge of non-interference from the Legislature. The outcome could be a voter-friendly election process that everyone could respect.
Doris Marie Provine is president of the Arizona Advocacy Network and facilitates the Arizona Voters Coalition.
The entire article can also be viewed here.