Kevin Payne

State Rep. Kevin Payne, a Peoria lawyer, has proposed a bill that would require mail-in ballots to be notarized.

PHOENIX -- A plan by a Peoria lawmaker to curb what he says is an opportunity for election fraud could end up throwing roadblocks in the path of some who want to cast a ballot.

Republican Rep. Kevin Payne said something needs to be done to ensure that the ballots showing up in the mail actually were cast by the individuals to whom they were addressed. He said the current system of election workers trying to match signatures on ballot envelopes with what's on file is far from foolproof.

His solution: notaries.

More to the point, his HB 2369 would require attestation by a notary that the person whose name is on the envelope was in fact the person who signed it. No notarization? No vote.

Payne conceded that some people don't have easy access to a notary. And that, he said, likely includes residents of his legislative district which includes the Sun City retirement community, who may be too infirm to go out and hunt down someone who can attest to their signature.

But Payne told Capitol Media Services he is undeterred, saying there's a real problem.

By law, anyone with an early ballot already has to sign the envelope. It is that signature that election workers review to see if it appears to match other signatures already on file.

Payne told Capitol Media Services he was besieged by emails before the election -- he estimated they were coming in at one point at five per minute -- of people questioning whether all those early ballots actually came from real voters.

Much of that likely was fueled by claims by President Trump and Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, that mail-in voting was subject to massive fraud.

Adding fuel to the issue was a report on Fox News that someone apparently applied for and cast an early ballot for a man who used to live in Arizona but had since moved to Tennessee. Nashion Garrett told Laura Ingraham said it appears that a mail-in ballot was sent to his old address.

"But I haven't lived in Arizona in over a year,'' he said.

Payne said there's no danger of that happening if a notary has to verify that the legally required signature on early ballot envelopes matches the person whose name is on there.

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs told Capitol Media Services she's not buying it.

Hobbs said a check of voter registration records does reveal a Nashion Garrett. But she said he was placed on the "inactive voter'' list after he didn't vote in several prior elections and mail to his residence was returned.

And Hobbs was similarly unimpressed by various other claims of fraud, none of which were ever proven in court.

"We cannot legislate based on misinformation that came out of this election,'' she said.

Hobbs said the current system of matching signatures works.

"That doesn't mean that one person might not slip through the cracks,'' she said. "But we don't need to burden every single voter in our state because one person might have slipped through the cracks.''

That goes to the fact that early voting is very popular in Arizona, at least in part because of its ease. In fact, during the last presidential race more than 88% of the ballots were early ballots.

And at least part of that has to do with simplicity

Voters can request an early ballot before each election. Or they can choose to be on a "permanent early voting list'' where they are guaranteed to get a ballot in the mail ahead of each election.

The safeguard is supposed to be the signature comparison done by county election workers. Payne said he's not convinced that's working.

"They're not trained like a forensic scientist would be, or a handwriting analyst who sits down and looks at the loop on the L and the cross on the T, the close on the O or the close on the P,'' he said.

Beyond that, Payne said doing those envelope-by-envelope checks is time consuming. A notarized signature, he said, eliminates the need for all that.

That, however, still leaves the question of whether all that will create a new burden on voters, particularly those who may have a hard time getting around -- if they get out at all -- to find a notary.

"That's certainly not my intention,'' Payne said.

Hobbs, however, said that would be the result.

"Not everybody has access to a notary,'' she said. What that means, Hobbs said, is a trip to a bank or post office or somewhere a notary might be present.

One option, Payne suggested, might be to provide incentives for notaries to go to the homes and apartments of those who need that signature verification.

Hobbs said that still leaves another hurdle.

"They charge,'' she said, creating what amounts to a "poll tax,'' where people have to pay to exercise their right to vote

Payne said that aspect could be avoided if the state picked up the tab. But that, in turn, would require an unknown amount of tax dollars to administer.

The lawmaker said he remains open to suggestion.

If approved, Arizona would become one of just a handful of states to impose a notary requirement on early ballots.

The strictest laws, according to the National Notary Association, are in Mississippi.

First, the application for an absentee ballot must be witnessed and signed by a notary or other official. Then, once received, the ballot must be completed in view of a qualified attesting witness such as a notary, U.S. postmaster, U.S. postal supervisor or other officer authorized to administer oaths.

Other states with requirements for a notary or someone else to witness a signature include Alaska, Alabama, Maine, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

Payne's legislation actually contains another provision that could make it harder for some people to cast early ballots.

Under a 2016 law -- one now awaiting U.S. Supreme Court review -- it is illegal to take someone else's voted ballot to a polling place. But that law does provide an exception for a family member or someone in the same household to drop off the ballot.

HB 2269 would remove both of those exemptions, leaving only a formal caregiver at someone's home, nursing care institution, assisted living center or similar facility as being the only one who could handle that person's ballot.

Payne also has companion legislation to wipe out the permanent early voting list. But he acknowledged that there's really no support among his colleagues for that and he does not intend to push HB 2270 as he introduced it.

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