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Democratic senator wants feds to monitor three GOP election bills

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PHOENIX – A Democratic lawmaker is calling upon the U.S. Department of Justice to monitor three election-related bills being considered by the Legislature.

“I think these bills are designed to do one thing: put a lid on a very strong Latino community that is coming out to vote,” said Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix.

Joined at a news conference by four groups that have been working to increase the Latino vote, Gallardo complained that the Republican legislation was crafted behind closed doors.

“These bills have been created not with the input of minority communities,” Gallardo said. “These bills are created in a vacuum.”

SB 1261 would allow counties to purge from permanent early voter lists people who don’t vote in both the primary and general elections in a given year. SB 1003 would make it a felony to turn in the early ballot of someone other than a relative.

Both of those bills have won party-line approval from the Senate Elections Committee, of which Gallardo is a member.

HB 2350 would require voters to have their signatures notarized to get on the permanent early ballot list or to receive early ballots. The House Judiciary Committee tabled that measure.

Gallardo shared a letter dated Tuesday asking the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to monitor the three bills.

“The current language in these bills will making (sic) the voting process more cumbersome and difficult and thus will have the unintended consequences of disenfranchising a huge segment of our citizens,” the letter said.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires Arizona and other states with histories of racial discrimination to receive Justice Department approval before changing election laws.

Dena Iverson, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in an email that the department would review Gallardo’s letter when it’s received.

At the news conference, Alessandra Soler, executive director of American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said the Senate bills would disenfranchise Latino voters.

“We as an organization are very concerned about these so-called election reform bills because they have absolutely nothing to do with reform and they have nothing to do with elections,” Soler said.

Randy Parraz with Citizens for a Better Arizona noted that last year his group collected over 4,000 ballots, many of them from Latino voters, and turned them in at polling places, something that would be a felony under SB 1003.

“This is, at its very base, discriminatory and targeted at certain communities of Latinos who for whatever reason trusted the person who came to their door,” Parraz said.

Gallardo said that he asked the sponsor of both bills, Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, to hold them so that they could be discussed with groups that work with Latino voters.

Reagan, chairwoman of the Senate Elections Committee, said in a phone interview that she specifically requested that Gallardo be on her committee because he represents a constituency she doesn’t want to disenfranchise.

“Where I need him is at the table helping me make decisions, not standing out in the lawn screaming and yelling, but that’s his choice it’s not mine,” Reagan said.