A sweeping effort by Congress to make it easier to vote and force disclosure of dark money spending in elections drew sharply different reactions from the congressmen representing northern Arizona — including Apache, Navajo and Gila counties.

Democrat Tom O’Halleran said the bill will strengthen democracy and prevent fraud. Republican Paul Gosar said the purpose of the bill was to “fraudulently elect Democrats.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Supreme Court hearings on a lawsuit challenging Arizona restrictions on voting signals potential problems for any federal overhaul of voting rules, even if the just-adopted House Resolution 1 somehow survives a Senate filibuster.

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has said she supports the voting rights bill, but would oppose any effort to eliminate the Senate filibuster, which means the measure would need 60 votes, including 10 Republicans to become law.

H.R. 1 would expand early and mail-in voting, making it harder to purge early voter rolls, require automatic voter registration, eliminate partisan gerrymandering, tighten government ethics standards, create a new public funding option for campaigns and require disclosure of spending by “dark money” groups to influence elections.

O’Halleran, a Democrat who represents the White Mountains, the Navajo Reservation, southern Gila County and portions of Pinal County, said “I was proud to pass this important package of bills that strengthen our democracy, ensure the security of our elections, get dark money out of politics and protect important voting infrastructure like voting by mail, used by Arizonans for decades.”

However, Gosar, who represents most of western Arizona and Rim Country, said he voted against H.R. 1 because it would “radically” alter elections procedures.

“H.R. 1 is riddled with provisions to erode voter registration requirements, accept voter applications from minors and implement online voting that would increase the potential for hackers and cybercriminals to commit voter fraud. This legislation has nothing to do with protecting elections, rather, it is about making it easier to fraudulently elect Democrats.”

The bill comes just as the newly installed conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court took up a legal challenge to two voting restrictions in Arizona.

One Arizona law allows election officials to discard any ballots cast at the wrong precinct location — even if they’re otherwise valid. The second Arizona law prevents anyone besides a caregiver or family member from dropping off someone else’s signed, sealed mail-in ballot at the polls — a practice referred to as “ballot harvesting.”

Advocates for both of those measures argued that they represent a legitimate effort to reduce the chance of voter fraud

Critics maintained that the two provisions effectively discriminate against minority voters, who have proven more likely to vote at the wrong polling place. Voting advocacy groups have also in the past mounted ballot harvesting efforts in minority neighborhoods with considerable success.

However, the questions from the justices seemed to signal a reluctance to second-guess state lawmakers so long as restrictions are not clearly intended to discriminate.

When Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked a lawyer for the Republican Party why his client cared about whether a vote was cast in the wrong precinct, attorney Michael Carvin replied, “Politics is a zero-sum game and every extra vote they get through unlawful interpretations of Section 2 hurts us.”

Most observers predicted the court will uphold both restrictions on voting, even if the restrictions impacted white and minority voters differently.

The hearing suggested the court would take an even dimmer view of many of the provisions in H.R. 1, which would override a growing number of state restrictions on voting, especially mail-in voting, early voting and automatic registration. Previous Supreme Court rulings have struck down attempts to limit the ability of corporation and special interest groups to spend as much money as they like to influence elections, without necessarily disclosing their spending.

The Arizona Legislature is already considering a resolution opposing H.R. 1 as an infringement on the rights of states to control their own elections. The Legislature is also considering a host of bills that would sharply restrict mail-in and early voting. Arizona has for decades relied more heavily on mail-in voting than almost any state. No audits or studies have shown higher rates of voting fraud connected to mail-in voting, which 80% of Arizona voters used in the last election. However, many Republicans maintain that the mail-in voting system is intrinsically more vulnerable to fraud.

Among the provisions in H.R. 1 and a companion package of ethics bills:

• Expands automatic voter registration and same-day registration;

• Strengthens vote by mail;

• Protects elections from foreign interference;

• Addresses partisan gerrymandering;

• Promotes digital ad transparency;

• Forces candidates and campaigns to disclose dark money;

• Reins in lobbyist influence; and

• Enforces ethics and conflict of interest rules for all government officials.

O’Halleran said in a release, “This legislation takes critical steps toward ensuring the transparency Americans deserve from their elected officials. I am proud that initiatives I championed to ensure accountability and oversight and prevent tax dollar waste are included in this legislation.”

Gosar had a very different view of the legislation.

For starters, he criticized Democrats for refusing to accept his proposed amendment that would have required immediate disclosure of any contributions made with a foreign credit card.

Rep. Gosar maintained that hundreds of thousands of votes in Arizona were cast fraudulently and voted to not accept the state’s presidential vote until the state had time to complete a “forensic audit” of the election. Multiple judges dismissed repeated lawsuits by the Arizona Republican Party alleging widespread voter fraud. Judges ruled the Republicans presented no evidence of fraud that could affect the outcome of the election.

Gosar said the provisions to overrule state restrictions and expand things like automatic voter registration when someone gets a driver’s license or making it easy for people to remain on a vote-by-mail list are intended to make it easier to commit fraud, not make it easier for people to vote.

“Speaker Pelosi and her liberal colleagues introduced this legislation for the sole purpose of removing accountability from future elections by radically altering our election methods,” he said in his regular email newsletter to constituents.

Contact the writer at paleshire@payson.com

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