Organizers Protest Move to Repeal Controversial HB2305

HB2305
Randy Parraz, president of Citizens For a Better Arizona, sets fire to a copy of HB2305 at a rally to protest the House’s effort to repeal the bill on Feb. 17. HB2305 is a controversial elections reform bill that was passed by the legislature last year and was referred to the upcoming November 2014 general elections. (Photograph by Litzy Galarza)

Arizona voters and members of a diverse coalition rallied Feb. 17 in Phoenix to protest the House move to repeal HB2305.

“We are back here today because we know what’s going on,” said Julie Erfle, chair, of the Protect Your Right To Vote Committee. “We are not fooled by the repeal.”

HB2305 was introduced by House Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, and passed by the legislature last year. The omnibus bill on elections reform includes controversial changes to the permanent early-voting list and the collection of voter ballots by volunteers.

If voters do not vote in two of the prior primary and general elections, the bill would allow for their removal from the permanent early-voting list. The bill would also criminalize the act of volunteering to turn in ballots for other voters.

Additionally, the bill added stricter requirements for citizen initiatives and would make it more difficult for third-party candidates to qualify for the ballot by increasing the nominating-petition requirements.

The Protect Your Right To Vote Committee gathered more than 144,000 signatures in September to refer the bill to the ballot in the November 2014 general elections. They also call for voters to vote down the bill in November.

The House approved HB2196 on Feb. 13, also sponsored by Farnsworth, that would repeal HB2305. Repealing 2305 will remove the referendum from the ballot. Protestors say they want Arizonans to weigh in on the issue and that the repeal of the bill should be left up to voters, not the House.

HB2305 has not been repealed yet and a bill similar to HB2196 is making its way through the Senate. If the measure passes both houses, the bill will go to the governor for approval.

Republicans are trying to suppress the vote of minority voters with HB2305, said Rep. Martin Quezada, D-Avondale. “These are communities that are still learning the early vote process. They’re still learning how to be engaged in the voting process altogether.”

Instead of giving people time to learn about the early voting process, the legislature wants to make drastic changes to the system that will lead to confusion, Quezada said.

Quezada said he heard a lot of voter opposition to HB2305 while collecting signatures last summer for the referendum.

“I talked to Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Greens, Libertarians. None of them liked this,” Quezada said. “At this point, it’s not about whether 2305 is good or bad. It’s about allowing the voters to have their say–all voters regardless of what party they are.”

Barry Hess, Vice-Chairman of the Arizona Libertarian Party, was among those who supported the referendum. “HB2305 is such a horrendous bill,” he said. “It’s such an anti-voter, anti-Arizona bill, where it suppresses the vote.”

Hess said the Republican Party is playing party politics. “We are where we are because of people like this, who would seek to win by exclusion, by trying to limit the field in order to make themselves look better.”

The passage, referendum and repeal of legislation on electoral changes seems to be a national trend according to Kristin Gwinn, executive director, from Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition. PAFCO is an advocacy organization that lobbies the legislature in the health and human services field.

Gwinn sees events here as similar to what has happened in other states. “It was virtually an identical process in Ohio where the legislature passed a similar bill to 2305, and the citizens stood up and said no, and they took to the streets, ” she said.

Ohioans collected signatures to put the issue to referendum and the bill was immediately repealed by the legislature to avoid a referendum.

Randy Parraz, president of Citizens For A Better Arizona, also spoke at the Phoenix rally in opposition to the move to repeal HB2305. In a symbolic gesture, he set fire to a copy of HB2305.

“We’re saying citizens’ initiatives matter and you can’t ignore 144,000 when they stand up,” he said.

If HB2305 remains on the ballot and is defeated, the issues in question could not be brought up again, Hess said. “However, by repealing it, there is a loophole that may allow them to bring them back piecemeal, one at a time, or even as a whole conglomeration again.”

Organizers said it would be difficult to continuously rally support against numerous bills at one time.

Rep. Quezada said if the governor signs a bill to repeal HB2305, there will probably be court challenges.

The repeal bill could reach the governor’s  desk as early as next week, he said.

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