PHOENIX-Voting rights advocates will deploy hundreds of volunteers to polling places throughout Arizona during the upcoming elections to protect Arizonans from new policies that make it harder to vote and disproportionately impact Native American and Latino citizens. This ramped-up “Election Protection Program” is a response to last year’s United States Supreme Court decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act, which marks its 49th anniversary on August 6th, and rules implemented by Arizona politicians since the Court’s decision.
On June 26th, 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated Section 5, a key provision in the Voting Rights Act that citizens had used to stop politicians from implementing harmful election laws in the past. The Court’s decision erased essential protections proven to advance free, fair and accessible elections and opened the door to political mischief at the expense of voters.
The Election Protection Program includes surveying voters at dozens of polling locations around the state about their experiences and any difficulties they faced. Leading the project is Arizona Advocacy Network, a nonpartisan civic engagement organization, with the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona and One Arizona, a non-partisan coalition of civic engagement groups.
“The Voting Rights Act was a significant law that secured the rights of American Indians to vote in Arizona,” said Shan Lewis, President of Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. “The Shelby County v Holder case took us several steps backwards and could deny the right to vote for all American Indians.”
A new policy by Secretary of State Ken Bennett and Attorney General Tom Horne could disenfranchise an estimated 15,000 – 20,000 eligible Arizona voters, according to Sam Wercinski, Executive Director of Arizona Advocacy Network. His group has successfully fought discriminatory laws that make it harder to vote and advocate for common sense reforms that increase access to voting for all eligible citizens.
As a major voting rights group, Arizona Advocacy Network is committing significant resources to aid voters this election year. “Collaborating with ITCA and One Arizona is a great opportunity to protect voters and stop disenfranchisement,” Wercinski said. “Our work benefits Arizona citizens and every American who wants to be heard on Election Day.”
Arizona students are also significantly affected by existing and new voting procedures being implemented this year. Surveys will be taken at polls serving university communities in Coconino, Maricopa and Pima Counties.
“Arizona students want to be engaged voters but politicians are preventing that with anti-voter laws passed as voter protection,” said Shayna Stevens, President of the Arizona Students’ Association. ”This Election Protection Program will protect the voting rights of all students.”
Arizona Advocacy Network will send volunteers to polling locations for the Primary Election on August 26 and the General Election on November 4 to survey voters on their experiences. Volunteers can be identified by their bright yellow T-shirts and credentials as part of this effort. An online survey will also be available for individuals to complete who wish to share their voting experience. The information collected will be used to seek changes in voting laws by working with election officials and legislators.