Opinion: Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita has become the new face of the effort that began decades ago to pass restrictive laws aimed at disfranchising voters.

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The Republican crusade to keep as many Arizonans from voting is gaining steam despite past notable setbacks.  

This year, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita is leading the GOP pack with her Senate Bill 1046 to ban voters from dropping off their early ballots in person.

The Scottsdale senator has a perfectly logical explanation: Anyone receiving a ballot in the mail must return them only by mail.

Otherwise, it defeats the purpose of mail-in ballots, right? Logically, yes.

But the senator is either so ill-advised to unintentionally disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Arizonans who prefer to drop off their early ballots on Election Day or too clever to try to get away with it.

This is no way to speed vote counts

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Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes talks about counting midterm election ballots Nov. 7, 2018, at the Tabulation and Election Center in Phoenix. Mark Henle, The Republic

Republicans in the Senate Judiciary Committee have endorsed her argument that is the best way to quickly count ballots. It now takes too long because election officials must individually verify signatures on the envelopes. Democrats balked, saying her intent is to make it more difficult for people to vote.

Under SB 1046, voters who don’t mail in their ballots would be able to cast one at a polling place on Election Day but would have to wait in line like everybody else.

In the November midterm election, 228,000 voters dropped off their ballots at the polls, according to the Secretary of State. That meant a two-week process for election officials to verify voters’ signatures and count all the votes.

I get it. Two weeks of undecided, nail-biting races feels like an eternity. But making it harder or inconvenient for voters isn’t the solution.

3 ways the GOP has disenfranchised voters

And now, Ugenti-Rita has become the new face of the effort that began years ago to pass restrictive laws aimed at disenfranchising voters.

It's no coincidence that Republicans are constantly shepherding voter-restrictive laws. Consider:

1.   Proof of citizenship

The 2004 voter-approved measure known as Proposition 200 required proof of citizenship to register to vote and ID when voting in person.

Former state Sen. Russell Pearce argued the law was designed to combat voter fraud, a perfectly logical explanation just like Ugenti-Rita’s.

But it really targeted minorities, Latinos specifically, under the baseless notion that undocumented immigrants were flooding the polls.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 struck the law down, saying Arizona couldn’t require proof of citizenship when people register for federal elections.

That spawned dual registration requirements: one for the state and another for federal elections.

What a costly and lengthy mess to solve a non-existent voter fraud problem.

2.   Ballot harvesting

In 2016, Republicans struck again with HB 2023, the “ballot harvesting” bill. It made it a felony for individuals to knowingly collect and turn in another voter's completed ballot, though it exempted family members and caregivers. The legislation targeted Latino groups that collected ballots to turn them in.

A federal judge upheld the ban.

3.   Reduced polling places

The same year, Republican Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell reduced polling places from 200 to 60 during the presidential primary, creating a mess and a public outcry.

It wasn’t a coincidence that some of the predominantly Latino areas got one or no polling places. It simply meant election officials could do whatever they want after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Arizona no longer needs the Justice Department’s blessing to change election rules.

Arizonans won't tolerate inconvenience 

Arizonans have largely embraced or at least been complicit with the Republican crusade against minorities – until it inconvenienced them.

Maricopa County voters wouldn’t put up with long lines at polling places and gave Purcell the boot.

At best, Ugenti-Rita is naive in thinking SB 1046 will fix drawn-out vote counts. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that taking away the convenience of dropping off early ballots would result in long lines at the polls or discourage people from casting a ballot altogether.    

Arizonans shouldn’t put up with this nonsense. It’s not lawmakers’ job to make it easier for election officials. It’s their job to ensure every eligible Arizona votes in the most convenient and efficient way.

Elvia Díaz is an editorial columnist for The Republic and azcentral. Reach her at 602-444-8606 or elvia.diaz@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on Twitter, @elviadiaz1.

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