Thursday, February 25, 2021 11:38 pm

Push to change election laws triggers GOP infighting

In this undated photo, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, makes a point during a debate on the floor of the Arizona Senate. Ugenti-Rita has long been the leader in pushing election policy at the Legislature, but is at odds this year with fellow Republicans who pushed a record number of election-bills in response to their dissatisfaction with the 2020 presidential election. /Photo by Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services

By Julia Shumway | Arizona Capitol Times

Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita had spent the past month heading off more than a dozen bills sponsored by her vice chair, and she was so close to succeeding.

Days before the deadline to hear bills in committee or let them die of neglect, the Scottsdale Republican and chair of the Senate Government Committee scheduled a single bill from Sen. Kelly Townsend, a simple two-sentence measure that would require that election equipment be made in America and all election data stay here.

Instead, she got all Townsend’s bills, in the form of a sweeping 13-page amendment that would ban felt markers at polling places, create new rules for Maricopa and Pima counties and give lawmakers carte blanche to demand that hundreds of thousands of ballots be recounted by hand.

Ugenti-Rita and the committee’s three Democrats killed the amendment. Townsend used her microphone in the committee room – and later her figurative microphone on social media sites — to complain about a fellow Republican blocking her bills and vow that the bills will be resurrected at some point. 

The showdown illustrated a point of contention among Republicans this year. Ugenti-Rita has for years led her caucus on election policy, pushing bills that earned the ire of voting rights advocates but that still pale in comparison to legislation introduced this year by others.

Ugenti-Rita and her House counterpart, Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, have reintroduced legislation from past years to remove some voters from the Permanent Early Voting List, add warning clauses to voter initiatives and limit future initiatives to a single subject.

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