Two Arizona Republican state senators traded accusations on June 30 over the partisan defeat of an election integrity bill that sought tighter security restrictions in future elections.
Kelly Townsend (R) criticized Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R), the chairwoman of the Arizona Senate Government Committee, after she voted with Democrats to kill the bill that Townsend had sponsored, ostensibly because Townsend didn’t go through a round with a committee before presenting the bill for a hearing.
Townsend said in a Twitter post on Tuesday, “Michelle Ugenti-Rita, candidate for AZ Secretary of State, just killed my bill, SB1241, which had over 34 serious election integrity and security provisions, because she was mad that I didn’t get her permission to run them.”
Townsend further commented of Ugenti-Rita’s actions on the Senate floor, saying, “I was told it was because I went around the chair and her committee. That is no reason to kill a bill. That is no reason to vote ‘no’ on good election integrity.”
The bill was defeated in a 16-13 roll call vote. Paul Boyer (R) also voted ‘no,’ as did Townsend, since the bill lacked sufficient votes to pass but can be brought back for reconsideration.
“I will vote ‘no’ to reconsider this bill,” Townsend said, “and I want everyone to think long and hard about what just happened.”
The bill SB-1241, which passed in the state House, included several new provisions introduced by Townsend to address concerns about fairness and transparency in chain-of-custody and voting equipment use requirements.
Ugenti-Rita reportedly offered to support the bill only if Townsend’s additions were removed in a conference committee.
Since the 2020 general election, some Republican lawmakers in Arizona have floated a slew of election integrity bills seeking to restore trust for all voters in the state’s election processes and to make sure every legal vote counts. Republicans who support the legislation believe that new election rules can prevent voter fraud and prevent costly legal action from election disputes.
Townsend’s bill required, among other things, that an electronic voting system provide a paper receipt to early and provisional voters at the time that their ballot is received for counting. The receipt would state whether the voter’s ballot was tabulated or rejected, and the reason for the rejection.
“If this bill goes down, the 2022 primary election will have the same rules when it comes to chain of custody as it had in the 2020 general election because of pride, because of nonfeasance, because the chairwoman [Ugenti-Rita] didn’t like that I went around her” to add the new provisions, Townsend said.
“This chairwoman is denying the people of Arizona confidence in election security. That’s unacceptable,” she added.
The two lawmakers clashed over other key election-related legislation early this year, with Ugenti-Rita accusing Townsend of having a personal “vendetta” against her, as Townsend pushed her stated motivation to ensure transparent and trusted elections.
“She has a vendetta against me since I got the chair” of the Government Committee, Ugenti-Rita told The Epoch Times on Wednesday. “She just cannot handle it in a professional way and it’s really driven a lot of her anger toward me. It’s unprofessional.”
“It is very personal,” she added. “It’s not personal from my end.”
Ugenti-Rita said her goal is to address the findings of the ongoing Maricopa County audit as a united party caucus and come up with “meaningful, specific, well-written fixes, championing together as a team.”
“What she does is make YouTube videos of me completely ignoring the facts. It’s about her, and not about the process. She’s killed many of my election bills,” Ugenti-Rita said. “I am not going to support doing something hastily and [not] have the support of the caucus. We have an opportunity to do it the right way and we have one chance.”