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EXCLUSIVE: One-on-one with Mayor Regina Romero on voting rights

Tucson 2022 - State of Voting and Elections
Posted: 5:35 AM, Feb 10, 2022
Updated: 2022-02-10 12:46:53-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Two months into 2022, there is still time to see how local governments will tackle the issues directly impacting southern Arizonans: inflation, road conditions and public safety, to name a few.

What kind of changes can elected officials green-light or get done this calendar year? I wanted to get a sense of where top city leadership has its sights set on policy.

In this first part of our in-depth conversation with Tucson Mayor Regina Romero, we talked about voting reform on a local and national level.

LOCAL AND NATIONAL VOTING REFORM

Following the conversation in mid-January, we then wanted to look at a timeline of possible changes coming to Pima County and Arizona overall.

"Voting rights, and the authority of cities to choose how we provide accessibility to elections, are being attacked," Romero said. The day she made this statement, the U.S. Senate had not yet debated changing filibuster rules to pass two new significant voting rights bills.

In the end, Romero's fellow party member and lawmaker, U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D) cast one of two votes to keep the filibuster and prevent a simple majority vote.

For Romero, federal legislation would have potentially curbed some of the proposals coming through state legislatures, including Arizona, which according to her, threaten voting rights.

"It's happening as we speak," she said. "It's not a theory. It is happening so that's why we need the federal government to intervene just like they did during the 1960s."

VOTING RIGHTS LEGISLATION

We looked at some of the key proposals making their way through the Arizona legislature:

  • SB 1404
    • Crafted by State Sen. David Gowan (R- Sierra Vista), this bill was approved by an AZ senate panel. It would require voters to have a reason and make a request to vote by mail. In 20-20, only 10 percent of Arizona voters cast their ballot in person.
  • SB 1362
    • Voters would have to show poll workers their identification if and when they drop off a mail ballot at a polling place. The proposal, backed mostly along party lines, would not apply to ballots returned at drop boxes or through the mail.

In this legislative session, we have also seen push-back to more radical reforms. Earlier this month, AZ House Speaker Rusty Bowers quashed HB 2596, which would have given the legislature more power to nullify results in several kinds of elections.

There's also a more localized change on the table for Pima County. The board of supervisors could soon decide if it wants to replace the current in-person voting precinct locations with election-day voting centers.

Though most counties in Arizona have already adopted the setup, in theory, a Pima County resident who's registered to vote and has not sent back their mail ballot could still come to cast their vote in any approved county center, no matter their precinct.

"From three minutes to 30 seconds," Pima County Recorder Gabriella Cázares-Kelly said when discussing how long it would take a voter to check in at these centers.

"What we hear often is that many people are frustrated that they often pass a polling location to get to their location," Cázares-Kelly said.

VOTING SECURITY

I also asked Cázares-Kelly about the security measures this system uses. She said a voter's registration record would go to an electronic poll book. At the center, a voter signs in with the right ID and the system will print a customized ballot based on where the person lives. Ballots will still be on paper and systems that count and keep vote totals will still stay disconnected from the internet.

"What vote centers do -- the only change that it makes is for election day itself," Cázares-Kelly said.

Both she and acting Pima County administrator Jan Lesher signed their names on a memo submitted to the board of supervisors to make the case the county should switch to electronic poll books and new voting centers.

While Mayor Romero has no power to approve this kind of measure, she wrote to Nine on Your Side:

"I'm supportive of this concept by the Pima County Recorder Cázares-Kelly, and we should not take our attention away from bills in the State Legislature that seek to disenfranchise cities from voting by mail."

Next up, the board will meet Feb. 15 to weigh the recorder's office's formal request to buy the poll books. If supervisors say no, Cázares-Kelly said she and her office would not try to ask for the switch again in 2024, which is a presidential election year.

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José Zozaya is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. Before arriving in southern Arizona, José worked in Omaha, Nebraska where he covered issues ranging from local, state and federal elections, to in-depth investigations on COVID-19 relief fraud, toxic chemical spills impacting rural communities, and community programs positively impacting immigrant families and their children. Share your story ideas and important issues with José by emailing jose.zozaya@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.