Arizona Advocacy Network

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Six days after Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill that tosses a few obstacles in the way of Latino voters, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that no longer will Arizona have to clear new election laws with the Justice Department.

Gone are the days, according to Chief Justice John Roberts, when our fair state needs to be monitored in order to assure that the voting rights of minority citizens are protected.

“Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically,” Roberts wrote, in striking down a key section of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. “Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare.”

True, blatantly discriminatory evasions are rare. It’s the sneaky stuff you’ve got to be on guard against.

Or not, now that a pre-emptive federal veto of such shenanigans is basically out the window.

Reaction to Tuesday’s ruling was swift, as Republicans and the Goldwater Institute lauded the opinion, calling it a victory for states’ rights. Democrats and civil rights groups, meanwhile, called it one giant step backward in the drive to protect the fundamental right to vote.

“The real question … is whether or not you believe there are discriminatory voting practices in the United States,” Tucson attorney Vince Rabago told me. “That’s the heart of the entire question. If you believe there are none, then you’re fine with accepting the Supreme Court’s decision. But the reality is that’s not the case.”

Rabago, a former state prosecutor, filed a complaint with the Justice Department earlier this month, asking the agency to investigate several instances of suppression and intimidation of Latino voters in the 2012 election.

Arizona is among nine states that must get “preclearance” from the Justice Department before making changes to its election laws or procedures. Those who chafe under DOJ supervision are quick to point out that Arizona was unfairly lumped in with the Jim Crow South in 1975 when it was added to the list of states with a history of voter discrimination. This, because we were two years late in offering bilingual ballots.

“Now, more than a third of a century later, Arizona (is) still being punished for having adopted bilingual ballots in 1974, rather than in 1972,” according to a press release issued Tuesday by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.

Rather than obsessing over how we got on the list, it seems logical to consider whether we should be off of it.

Consider that DOJ has blocked 18 discriminatory voting laws in Arizona since the 1980s, according to the Arizona ACLU, including the rejections of several newly drawn political districts that minimized the influence of Latino voters.

Consider the 2012 election in which voters in some predominately Latino areas had to wait for up to eight hours to cast ballots and some were given the wrong date for the election or even the wrong ballot.

Consider House Bill 2305, a series of election reforms signed into law last week in a bill that is supported by all 15 of Arizona’s county recorders. Among the changes are several provisions that appear to disproportionately affect new Latino voters.

One would target voters for potential removal from the permanent early voter list if they hadn’t cast ballots in both the primary and general election in 2010 and 2012. Another would make it a crime for community groups to collect ballots and return them to the polls. Such get-out-the-vote drives boosted minority voter turnout in last year’s elections.

“These are primarily new Americans, individuals who have come from countries or cultures that don’t have, first of all, a U.S. Postal Service that delivers on time,” said Sam Wercinski, executive director of Arizona Advocacy Network. “They have grown to trust and rely on these civic-engagement organizations, who are in their neighborhoods on a regular basis, to ensure their ballot is delivered and will be counted.”

Well, they’d better not rely on it in 2014. Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling means that the Arizona doesn’t need DOJ’s permission to put HB 2305 into effect.

Still, all is not lost. Minority voters’ hopes to reimplant teeth into the Voting Rights Act now lie in the capable hands of ….


(Column published June 26, 2013, The Arizona Republic.)