Later this summer, we will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and just two years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States delivered two rulings that have changed the trajectory of voting rights and access to the ballot in America.
First, in a strong victory, the Court struck down voter suppression attempts in Arizona. The inherent goal by the state: make voter registration increasingly difficult. Despite this intent, the holding in State of Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (ITCA) resulted in a stay that kept an order in place requiring the acceptance of the federal form as acceptable without additional paperwork requirements. This allowed nearly 12,000 eligible Arizonans to register, of which nearly 10,000 of them voted who would have otherwise been denied this right. Arizona Advocacy Network lead this challenge in 2005 as a plaintiff with ITCA and other groups.
In contrast during the same term, the Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in n Shelby County v. Holder. This opened the door to an explosion of new anti-voter laws by virtually eliminating the Department of Justice’s pre-clearance of such state laws. With ease, states such as Arizona, Texas and Alabama (shock!), have passed new barriers targeting historically marginalized groups.
It’s been two years and attacks undercutting progress made are a regular occurrence. In the wake of the Shelby decision, and as Americans urge Congress to pass measures to update and strengthen voter protections, Arizona Advocacy Network conducted a study of Arizona elections called the Arizona Shelby Response Project. It revealed that thousands of votes from civically-engaged citizens were not counted in the November 2014 general election. Instead of promoting free, fair and accessible elections that amplify the voice of citizens, Arizona is among the states that continues to disenfranchise eligible voters. Currently, Arizona politicians are challenging the use of the federal voter registration form which collects the same information and uses the same government databases to verify citizen eligibility but requires less paperwork. Others, including the current Secretary of State and Attorney General, are undermining the Inter Tribal Council decision through their support of a policy that creates two classes of voters. Arizonans continue to pay the price but still, Arizonans have the power to strengthen the system and reclaim democratic principles.
Continued progress must happen on a national and state level. Congress needs to update the Voting Rights Act, perhaps by passing the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA), introduced this week by Senator Pat Leahy and Congressman John Lewis. In Arizona, the Clean Elections system should be strengthened. It is imperative to have the continued public support of voter-enacted initiatives, such as the Arizona Clean Elections Act. Independent, nonpartisan oversight that supports voters and reigns in secret, ‘dark money’ influence will ensure that elections in Arizona occur to promote the democracy enshrined in our state constitution. Two years is too long a wait to restore the protections needed for voters. And quite honestly, voters should use their power to veto barriers and modernize our elections through citizens initiative.
Cross-posted from Medium.