- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 28, 2020

PHOENIX (AP) - Voting rights advocates called on Arizona officials Tuesday to send a ballot to every registered voter for the primary and general elections this year and take other steps to ensure people can safely vote during the coronavirus outbreak.

Citing infections linked to Wisconsin’s primary earlier this month, the groups said nobody should risk their health to cast a ballot. They want election officials to send ballots to everyone while preserving in-person voting opportunities for those who prefer it or can’t vote by mail, such as living in remote areas of Native American reservations. They also want extended deadlines for in-person early voting and voter registration.

The moves are critical “so we don’t end up in a situation where we’re tracing back new coronavirus cases…to people who were exercising their fundamental right to living in a democracy by voting,” said Aaron Marquez of Vets Forward, an advocacy group led by military veterans.

Wisconsin health officials said Tuesday that 52 people who voted in person or worked at the polls for the state’s April 7 spring election and presidential primary have contracted COVID-19. Several of the 52 people also reported other possible exposures to the virus. The decision to hold the election drew widespread concern because of voters waiting in long lines to cast ballots.

The Arizona proposal faces long odds. Key lawmakers in the Republican-led Legislature, which would need to sign off, have been opposed, and Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has been hostile to suggestions the election carries risks. They say voters already have enough opportunities to vote by mail or at early voting centers.

“We already have the ability to vote in person two ways, day-of and early, and we already have the option to vote by mail,” said Republican Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, who leads the Senate committee overseeing election legislation. “I don’t know what about our current options they don’t understand.”

All Arizona voters can vote by mail by asking for a ballot ahead of time, she said. She’s suggested using the National Guard to staff polling places if there aren’t enough workers.

Earlier this month, Ducey rejected a reporter’s suggestion that voting by mail might increase health risks. Most voters already cast their ballots by mail, he said.

“If people want to vote by mail in November, they have months and months and months in which to make that decision,” Ducey said. “We’re not going to disenfranchise anyone from voting on Election Day. We’re going to have more availability to vote, not less.”

Election officials are scrambling to determine how to conduct an election in compliance with social distancing guidance from public health officials. Obstacles include finding polling places large enough to keep people separated, even as many traditional sites back out, and staffing polling places - a job done overwhelmingly by elderly workers who are most vulnerable to severe complications from the coronavirus.

“Part of keeping our elections secure means ensuring the health and safety of everyone participating in our elections,” said Patty Hansen, Coconino County’s top election official, who supports the proposal. Mailing a ballot to everyone would alleviate the challenge of finding and staffing polling places, she said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

Other groups supporting the proposal include the Arizona Advocacy Network and the Arizona Public Health Association.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat and the state’s top election official, has asked lawmakers to give counties authority to run all-mail elections this year, but lawmakers have balked. Before the Democratic presidential primary in March, Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, also a Democrat, tried to do just that but was quickly stopped by a judge.


This article has been corrected to show that Aaron Marquez woks for Vets Forward, not Vote Vet

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