As the U.S. Supreme Court mulls the fate of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Americans are growing more aware that one of the most positive and pro-democracy laws in American history could be unraveled by a handful of justices on a sharply divided court.
For Arizonans, the timing is more concerning, because the court is also hearing Arizona vs. ITCA, which could reinstate unnecessary ID requirements that created barriers to registering to vote and undermine the 1993 National Voter Registration Act.
As these cases remind us, the battle for equality is not over. Our rights as Americans include fair elections and equal access to voting, free of barriers designed to discourage or prevent citizens from casting ballots on Election Day.
Grass-roots civic-engagement organizations have done a remarkable job over the past four years registering and helping tens of thousands of new voters who historically did not participate in our democratic process. Rather than embracing and celebrating the dramatic rise in participation, the Arizona Legislature is creating new barriers that make it harder for voters to have their ballots counted.
Senate Bill 1003, supported by government officials and opposed by us and a diverse coalition of Arizonan nonpartisan groups, would outlaw the common practice of grass-roots volunteers helping voters ensure their early ballots arrive on time to be counted. By making early-ballot deliveries by community groups a felony, legislators put currently legal “get-in-the-vote” operations into a deep freeze and makes criminals out of trusted individuals who affiliate with these community organizations.
Simultaneously, Senate Bill 1261, also supported by government officials, could purge tens of thousands of mostly newly-registered voters from the Permanent Early Voter List. This bill is an overreaction by officials to the large number of provisional ballots cast in the 2012 election due in significant part to a poorly designed government website. A postelection analysis showed that the majority of provisional ballots cast by these voters were due to the Secretary of State Office’s online system that confused new registrants into signing up erroneously for mail ballots. We’re told a fix is under way.
Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, the sponsor of these bills, and officials can point to no crimes committed. And there are current procedures to remove voters from the PEVL who do not use the early ballot. For example, citizens who go to the polls to vote can simply remove themselves from the PEVL.
We and many other non-partisan civic groups have offered to work with election officials to assist in voter education and to provide common-sense changes to ballots and procedures. Some have been accepted. Still, some lawmakers insist on making criminals out of volunteers and sowing confusion through PEVL purges.
Legislative changes should focus on making voting easier, not harder. The goal should be accuracy in voting, not speed in counting ballots. If the officials took this approach, our great state would have a better chance of getting off the federal government’s oversight list, where it has been for four decades.
Rejecting SB 1003 and SB 1261 would be a solid start. Should these bills reach the governor’s desk, we ask that she veto them.
Doris Marie Provine is board president of the Arizona Advocacy Network. Raquel Teran is state director of Mi Familia Vota.