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Updated Jun 19, 2013 - 5:46 pm

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signs election overhaul bill

PHOENIX -- Gov. Jan Brewer signed a sweeping election bill Wednesday that will overhaul the early voting process in Arizona and make it more difficult for third-party candidates to get on the ballot.

The legislation backed by state and local election officials seeks to trim Arizona's permanent early voting list and limit who may return mail ballots for voters. Democratic lawmakers, voting rights groups and third-party politicians had fought the measure, calling it a thinly veiled effort to keep Republicans in power by creating new hurdles for some candidates and for low-income voters.

Brewer's spokesman said the bill would help limit confusion after hoards of voters who signed up to receive mail ballots instead cast provisional ballots at the polls in 2012, overwhelming state and local election officials and delaying election results.

``It's an important election reform proposal that will help ensure Arizonans won't have to wait days for election results,'' said Matthew Benson, Brewer's spokesman.

The bill signing angered Democratic lawmakers who unsuccessfully fought the bill in the Legislature and had hoped Brewer would veto it after they helped pass her divisive Medicaid expansion proposal last week amid opposition from the Republicans who control the Senate and House. Brewer could not have won approval for her plan to expand Medicaid to 300,000 more low-income Arizonans without Democratic votes.

``This goes to show where the governor really stands on bipartisanship and in terms of fair and equal elections,'' said Rep. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, who supported the Medicaid expansion but opposed the election overhaul pushed by Republicans. ``This is about as partisan a move as you can get. She took one step forward with Medicaid, and two steps back with this.''

Quezada said he anticipates a referendum effort aimed at overturning the new measure.

It will allow election officials to remove voters from the permanent early voting list if they didn't vote by mail in the two most recent general elections. It prohibits groups from returning the mail ballots, including Latino voter outreach organizers who often collect votes from low-income neighborhoods in the days before elections.

``Republican leaders across the state should know that Latino voters will remember this decision in the coming election cycle and beyond,'' said Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona, a Hispanic voter outreach group.

The bill also dramatically increases the number of signatures third-party candidates need to get on the ballot.

``It's a market place of ideas, and the third parties simply need to be more effective at drawing support for their ideas and candidates,'' Benson said.

The measure initially failed in the Senate last week, but was revived after Republican leaders pressured their caucus to fall in line and back it.

Arizona's 15 elected county recorders urged Brewer to sign the bill in a letter this week. They noted that 58 percent of all provisional ballots cast in 2012 were from voters who received early ballots in the mail.

``Our collective goal is to improve the election process for all voters and adequately address the challenges identified by many of our constituents following the 2012 general election,'' the letter stated.

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