Amid a contentious hearing over proposed restrictions on Arizona’s vote-by-mail system, a Republican state lawmaker argued that voters who hadn’t participated in recent elections should no longer automatically have absentee ballots mailed to them. The reasoning, said state Rep. John Kavanagh (R), is that Republicans care more about alleged voter fraud than Democrats — and that “everybody shouldn’t be voting.”

“Democrats value as many people as possible voting, and they’re willing to risk fraud. Republicans are more concerned about fraud, so we don’t mind putting security measures in that won’t let everybody vote — but everybody shouldn’t be voting,” he told CNN this week.

Then, despite no evidence presented of dead people voting or residents using absentee ballots that weren’t their own in Arizona, the longtime lawmaker insisted the proposed voting measures in the state, like the hundreds of others in states nationwide this year, reflected how “quality” mattered just as much “quantity.”

“Not everybody wants to vote, and if somebody is uninterested in voting, that probably means that they’re totally uninformed on the issues,” Kavanagh said to the outlet. “Quantity is important, but we have to look at the quality of votes, as well.”

His comments have drawn the ire of voting rights experts and critics who accused the Republican of using rhetoric “straight out of Jim Crow,” as author Ari Berman said, at a time when GOP-controlled legislatures are advocating stricter voting measures across the United States. The push from Republicans comes on the heels of former president Donald Trump promoting baseless claims of voter fraud without evidence for months.

So far, more than 250 bills on voting restrictions have been introduced in state legislatures nationwide in 2021, according to data compiled by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. In Arizona, where close to 80 percent of voters cast their ballots by mail in the last election, the state government has already introduced 24 bills restricting voting rights this year.

Following Democratic victories in the 2020 election, state Republican lawmakers across the country are proposing new laws that would restrict access to voting. (Mahlia Posey/The Washington Post)

This week alone, the Arizona Senate approved a bill that would require voters to submit identification as part of their mail-in ballots. That was before a state House committee headed by Kavanagh approved the measure on Wednesday to stop mailing ballots to people who haven’t voted in the past four elections.

Kavanagh’s comments were denounced by voting rights expert Gloria Browne-Marshall, a constitutional law professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, as voter suppression that uses “language from the 1800s” in response to the election.

“When we see states like Arizona that have wanted to suppress the right to vote and found different ways to manipulate law and violence, it’s a slap in the face to democracy at its core,” said Browne-Marshall, the author of “The Voting Rights War: The NAACP and the Ongoing Struggle for Justice.” “This is just another level of American hypocrisy.”

In an interview on Friday, Kavanagh said his words were taken out of context and defended the measure to stop sending some voters mail-in ballots as a matter of election security. He told The Post that his sentiment about “everybody shouldn’t be voting” was referencing “those fraudulent voters, not less-informed people who have every right to vote.”

“I would never support a voter information test to vote,” he said to The Post. “If you can legally vote, you vote. But I don’t think people who are disinterested should be forced to the polls in the interest of turnout.”

President Biden on March 7 signed an executive order aimed at promoting voting rights as state legislatures consider measures that could limit voting access. (The White House)

Kavanagh said the concerns surrounding fraudulent voters have been anecdotal. A Post analysis last year of votes cast in three states with all-mail elections found the rate of suspicious ballots cast in 2016 and 2018 to be 0.0025 percent of the total.

Browne-Marshall said that elected officials alleging or suggesting that dead people voted is “a racial tactic to suppress voters of color.”

“The slew of proposed voting laws in Arizona and across the country isn’t about voter fraud, because it simply doesn’t exist,” wrote Arizona Republic columnist Elvia Díaz. “It’s about keeping certain people from voting.”

Critics this week latched onto the term “quality” vote. Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center, said the “not very subtle subtext” of a quality vote means White voters.

“These remarks have a long, very ugly history in America,” Waldman said. “When you say something like this, it’s about race or class — not quality or election integrity.”

The language used in Arizona is not new when it comes to promoting voting restrictions. As The Post’s Philip Bump has explained, the idea that some people are simply too ignorant to vote has a toxic history — one rooted in intelligence and literacy tests that were central to limiting Black people from voting in the Jim Crow South.

The rhetoric has also been used in recent months by conservative pundits, including Ben Shapiro, who flatly said, “Not everybody should vote.”

The wave of voting restrictions introduced in places such as Arizona and Georgia, two states that flipped from Trump to the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, in 2020, could set up one of the most significant clashes ahead of next year’s midterms, Waldman said.

While some of these bills in Arizona and nationally have gained momentum and could pass, the imposition of new restrictions might actually end up inspiring more people to turn out to vote, said Allan Lichtman, a distinguished professor of history at American University.

“Who is to say what is a quality vote?” said Lichtman, author of “The Embattled Vote in America.” “There is no vote god to define who is casting a quality vote.”

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