Last year, along with several other civil rights activists, I had the opportunity to speak with the Arizona Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about potential barriers to voting in our state.
The consensus: Arizona is placing unnecessary hurdles in front of eligible citizens before they can cast a ballot.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is responsible for investigating, reporting on, and making recommendations concerning civil rights issues in the United States. An Advisory Committee was established in every state to aid the Commission in its investigations.
The Committee just issued its report and highlighted several concerns that the ACLU of Arizona and other voting rights groups have raised the alarm about. Just last year, an investigation by the ACLU and other voting rights groups found Arizona agencies legally required to register people to vote were persistently engaged in several violations of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which was passed by Congress in 1993 to make it easier to register to vote. The violations we found were echoed in the Committee’s report—Arizona is not following crucial federal voting rights law designed to expand the opportunity to vote and is excluding thousands of eligible voters in Arizona, particularly low-income people and people of color, in the process.
In violation of Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the Committee found that most state agencies in several Arizona counties are not providing voter registration materials in Spanish and/or Native American languages. Language assistance is imperative for Arizona. Thirty-one percent of Arizona’s population is Hispanic and five percent are Native American. Failing to provide translated materials disproportionately harms people of color.
The Committee also criticized Arizona’s voting rights restoration process. Arizona has one of the most complicated restoration processes in the country making it difficult for citizens who have been convicted of a crime to get their right to vote back. More than 221,000 Arizonans do not have the right to vote, and its impact falls disproportionately upon people of color.
The Committee correctly points out that there is a lack of information regarding the restoration of rights available and recommends that the payment of mandatory fees and fines to obtain your right to vote be eliminated. We agree—disenfranchising people after their release from prison is antithetical to the reentry process and harmful to sustainable reintegration of ex-offenders into society.
Additionally, the Commission raised concerns over the lack of available polling locations statewide, unnecessary restrictions on mail-in ballots and encouraged Arizona to adopt same-day voter registration. The Commission also said the state should change its voter registration forms because Arizona’s proof of citizenship requirement is confusing and may particularly harm Native American voters.
Historically, Arizona has failed to guarantee citizens the right to vote. The ACLU is working to change that.
In August, the ACLU, the ACLU of Arizona, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, and Demos reached a settlement with Arizona agencies on behalf of Mi Familia Vota, Promise Arizona, and the League of Women Voters of Arizona. In an effort to remedy NVRA violations we found in our investigation last year, the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) agreed to mail out over 300,000 voter registration forms to eligible citizens. These forms will provide thousands of Arizonans the opportunity to register to vote. The agencies will provide trainings for their employees that will explain the policy of the state to require distribution of a voter registration application during specific interactions.
Additionally, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) has agreed to translate the Driver’s License/Identification Card application into Spanish. These forms will be distributed to ADOT offices in Maricopa, Pima, Santa Cruz, and Yuma counties and to authorized third party providers.
Although the ACLU repeatedly warned Secretary of State Michele Reagan that her office was in violation of the NVRA, Secretary Reagan has failed to protect Arizona voters from disenfranchisement. To ensure that the Secretary of doesn’t illegally disenfranchise more than 500,000 Arizonans, we filed a lawsuit against the Secretary asking a court to:
- Order Arizona to keep voter registration addresses up to date;
- Instruct Secretary Reagan to count provisional ballots cast by affected voters; and
- Send out a mailing to all affected voters informing them of how to correct their registration address and locate polling places.
Voting should be accessible and inclusive for all. Arizona is not protecting our right to vote—we will keep working to ensure that voting is accessible to all eligible people.