(Photo: The Arizona Republic)
- Arizona's SB1062 dominates debate between secretary of state candidates
- Terry Goddard, Michele Reagan face off in second televised debate
- Reagan says SB1062 has nothing to do with office, Goddard says it's an issue of civil rights
The candidates for the state's top elections office spent the better part of a televised debate Tuesday arguing over a right-to-refuse-service bill.
This year's Senate Bill 1062, which would have offered a legal defense for individuals and businesses facing discrimination lawsuits if they could have proved they acted upon a "sincerely held religious belief," has morphed into a greater issue of equal treatment in the heated race for secretary of state, an office that is next in line to the governor.
Terry Goddard, the Democratic nominee, called the bill a discriminatory piece of legislation that would have shut out gays and certain other groups. He ties it to the wider issue of civil rights, and said it's imperative the top elections officials show no preference in overseeing statewide voting.
"If the secretary of state does not make it clear to all the citizens of Arizona that they are going to be absolutely fair in the execution of the voting laws, that every vote is counted and every individual is equal, the message that goes out is the message we have today, which is a rapidly decelerating number of people participating," Goddard said.
He has criticized his opponent, Republican state Sen. Michele Reagan, for voting for the bill, which Gov. Jan Brewer ultimately vetoed.
When Ted Simons, the host of the Citizens Clean Elections debate, asked Reagan to explain her vote, she called it a "bad vote," and said it was unfair to "cherry pick" that vote out of the 10,000-plus votes she's cast as a member of the Legislature.
She disputed the bill has anything to do with the duties of the secretary of state, and noted the endorsements she's received from various business groups. That's proof that her vote, although ill-advised, did not alienate the very groups which led the charge to defeat SB 1062, she said.
The candidates also sparred over parts of another bill Reagan supported that proposed changes to the state's election procedures. House Bill 2305, which the Legislature repealed this year, would have allowed elections officials to drop names from the permanent early-voting list and would have banned people from collecting others' ballots for a return to the counting booth.
Both agreed elections officials need a way to remove names from the permanent early voting list in the event of mental incapacity, and both said voters who don't use the mail-in ballot should be dropped from the list after a certain period of inactivity.
They differed on what Reagan has called "ballot harvesting" and what Goddard says are hearsay accounts of ballot collection.
Reagan promoted legislation last year after she heard accounts of groups collecting other voters' ballots and returning them to elections offices. It's inconceivable, she said, that someone should be allowed to bring in 1,000 ballots.
Goddard said any restrictions need to be "evidence based" but acknowledged that someone collecting dozens of ballots at a time is worrisome. However, he said there have no reports of election fraud or ballot tampering, so the issue might be a solution in search of a problem.
The two agreed that any restrictions would need exceptions to allow spouses to return each others' ballots or friends to return the ballots of homebound voters.