An ABC15 investigation, which exposed loopholes in Arizona state law that allows felons to illegally register to vote, is prompting efforts to rewrite the law.
State Sen. Kelly Townsend is the sponsor of SB1477, which clarifies the process to strike felons off the voter rolls. If passed, county court clerks must send out monthly reports with the names of all newly convicted felons, along with their dates of birth, addresses and social security numbers. Those records will be used by the Arizona Secretary of State’s office and county recorders to cancel felons’ voter registrations.
“We have a lot of work to do on our voter rolls, and this is just one of the areas and this will help that happen,” Townsend said.
“The clerks have no issue; the recorders have no issue,” said Jen Marson, executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties, while voicing support for SB1477 at a hearing in February.
The bill passed the full Senate and could go for a final vote in the House next week.
The ABC15 Investigators exposed problems with election laws in November, after several former felons explained to Investigator Melissa Blasius how they illegally got registered to vote.
They claimed a community leader, whom they trusted to help restore her civil rights, skipped steps, and they said they were unfamiliar with how to properly restore their rights in the court system prior to registering to vote.
Some Democratic legislators say Townsend's bill is just a partial fix because it doesn't address the confusion and red tape about how felons can restore their right to vote.
“People just don't understand that process,” Sen. Martin Quezada, (D-Phoenix) said. “They don't understand if their rights are taken away. They don't understand if their rights are restored.”
Currently in Arizona, first-time felons can be automatically restored... Once they serve their time and pay their restitution. Others must apply through a court process.
Quezada authored bills in recent years that would automatically restore voting rights for every felon upon release from prison eliminating the court process entirely.
“They've actually served their debt to society,” Quezada said. “They're living amongst us or working amongst us. Why aren't they voting with us as well?"
This year the Republican-controlled legislature never granted a single hearing for Quezada's rights restoration bill.