Tensions Rise In Arizona Senate As Republicans Approve Voting Restrictions

Published: Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - 9:14am
Updated: Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - 10:17am

Tensions boiled over in the Arizona Senate Monday afternoon as Republicans approved bills critics warn will suppress votes.

Democratic senators often oppose Republican voting bills by warning they’d make it harder for communities of color to vote or have a say in the initiative process, which allows Arizona citizens to bypass the Legislature and propose their own laws.

As Democrats aired those concerns while voting on the Senate floor, Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R-Scottsdale) said she’s sick of her colleagues from across the aisle claiming she supports discriminatory laws. Republican efforts to change voting laws are about assuring voters of the integrity of elections, Ugenti-Rita said.

“Calling us racist and playing the race card is not, does not match our motivations,” she said. “And I am sick of the name calling.”

Minority Leader Rebecca Rios responded by noting that no Democrat called Ugenti-Rita or any other Republican lawmaker a racist.

Rios said if that’s what Ugenti-Rita heard, she should ask herself why.

“I think the sensitivity comes from the realization that many of the bills that are passed, that are partisan, have been found, in fact, to — how do I put this — to have a disproportionate impact on people of color,” Rios said.

Martin Quezada (D-Glendale) said he believes Republicans have the best of intentions when sponsoring bills. 

But he said they’re still to blame for the consequences of those bills — if the measures make it harder for low-income communities and people of color to vote. Quezada said warnings from those communities repeatedly fall on deaf ears at the Capitol, where Republicans control the majority in each chamber.

“The people that look like me, and the people that vote like me, [say] this is going to hurt us. And what do we do? We ignore it. And we continue to push this stuff forward,” he said. “It is irresponsible. So you get zero sympathy from me if you’re outraged.”

In party line votes, Republicans approved bills that would offer another way to challenge signatures gathered for initiatives, provide $1 million to the attorney general for antitrust and voter integrity investigations, and add new voter ID requirements for Arizonans who return ballots by mail.