While it was in effect, Voting Rights Act preclearance protected Arizona voters from a raft of potentially harmful elections changes. Below is a sampling of some of them:
1983: City of Douglas
On May 23, 1983, the City of Douglas submitted to the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) a series of proposed elections-related changes, a switch from districts to an at-large election of the city council, term limits for council members, and a 1981 special election. With regard to at-large elections, the DOJ reasoned that Douglas’ history of racially-polarized voting coupled with the city’s substantially lower proportion of eligible Mexican-American voters to White voters would significantly reduce the potential for Mexican-Americans to elect representatives of their choice to the city’s governing body. With regard to term limits for council members, the DOJ reasoned that in addition to immediately removing two of the council’s three Hispanic members who would be ineligible for reelection, the elimination of the incumbency advantDOJe would likely make campaigning more expensive and cumbersome, creating an economic barrier for Douglas’ historically poorer minority residents. With regard to the 1981 special election, the DOJ noted the inaccuracy of the Spanish translation created a direct and disparate impact that fell solely upon the city’s Mexican-American population.
1987: Apache County
On May 18, 1987, Apache County submitted its multilingual (Spanish and Navajo) election procedures to the DOJ pursuant to Section 5 of the VRA. While the DOJ did not object to the county’s Spanish language election procedures, it did reject the Navajo language election procedures. The DOJ noted 55% of Navajos did not speak English. Its analysis found the County disseminated virtually no information in Navajo regarding voter registration locations and procedures, candidate qualification requirements, or absentee voting. Additionally, the DOJ found the County made no effort to provide Navajo language training to county poll workers, thereby impeding Navajo voters from receiving accurate translations of the ballot. Finally, the County’s practice of sending English language election materials to reservation locations without taking care to ensure the information was disseminated in Navajo was found to be inadequate. As such, the DOJ concluded Apache County’s Navajo language election procedures fell short of ensuring the equal participation of Navajo citizens as mandated in the bilingual provisions of the VRA.
1991: Coconino County
On September 4, 1991, Coconino County submitted its voter registration challenge and purge procedures to the DOJ pursuant to Section 5 of the VRA. Under the proposed procedures, voters whose registrations were challenged would be mailed a questionnaire related to their residency that, if not returned within 45 days, would result in their registration being cancelled. Noting the cumbersome nature of mail delivery on Native American reservations and that many reservation residents did not receive mail at home, the DOJ stopped the proposed changes because they would likely have had a disparate impact on the voting rights of the County’s Native American population.
1992: Yuma County
On July 28, 1992, Yuma County submitted its redistricting plan to the DOJ pursuant to Section 5 of the VRA. The plan, drawn up by the County Board of Supervisors, would split the City of Yuma’s largely Latino neighborhoods between Districts 1 and 3. While minority leaders presented the County with a redistricting plan that fairly reflected minority voting strength, the board rejected this alternative plan on the grounds the alternative would create jagged district line. However, the DOJ concluded the County was capable of creating compact districts without fragmenting Yuma’s Hispanic population, noting the proposed redistricting plan seemed to reflect the privileging of Supervisor incumbency over the interests of minority voters. As such, the DOJ held the proposed redistricting plan would result in a disparate impact on the ability of Hispanic voters in the county to elect their preferred representatives.
On May 16, 2002, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission submitted its 2001 legislative redistricting plan to the DOJ pursuant to Section 5 of the VRA. In determining whether or not the proposed redistricting plan ensured fair opportunities for minority representation, the plan was measured against a benchmark plan that consisted of one Native American-majority district (District 3), seven Hispanic-majority districts (Districts 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 22, and 23), and five minority-majority districts (3, 10, 11, 22, and 23), generating a total of eight districts where minority voters have the ability to elect their candidate of choice. In order to pass muster, any proposed redistricting plan must meet this eight district threshold; any less would be viewed as a retrogression of minority voting rights. While the AIRC claimed the proposed plan contained ten districts (2, 13-16, 23-25, 27, and 29) where minority voters would be able to elect their candidates of choice, the DOJ concluded five of those districts (13, 14, 15, 23, and 29) were redrawn in such a way as to split minority populations and impede their ability to elect candidates of their choice. Falling three districts short of the benchmark’s eight district threshold, the DOJ reasoned the redistricting plan was inherently retrogressive and rejected it.