Arizona Capitol

'Register To Vote, Get Your Driver's License Suspended' Bill Fails

'Register To Vote, Get Your Driver's License Suspended' Bill Fails
Representative Bob Thorpe, a leading contender for the most useless and reactionary member of the Arizona Legislature, has once again failed in his quest to stop college students from voting.

The Flagstaff Republican's latest attempt, House Bill 2397, would have penalized anyone who registers to vote using a different address than the one that's on their driver's license.

Under the proposed law, those voters would have had 30 days to update their address with the Motor Vehicles Department. If they failed to do so — or if they didn't receive the notice in the mail — they would either receive a $25 fine or would have their license suspended.

The bill died Tuesday after the House Federalism committee, which Thorpe chairs, voted against moving it forward. 

Thorpe has repeatedly tried to prevent college students from voting in his district. "If they live in Sierra Vista, but they go to school in Flagstaff, they should register where they live," he said during Tuesday's committee hearing.

But the rule would also have affected anyone who moves with any frequency, including low-income voters and members of the military.

"How is this not a tax on voting?" Representative Isela Blanc, a Democrat from Tempe, asked repeatedly.

"Because there’s a requirement in statute that if you move, you need to update your address," Thorpe replied, completely missing the point.

The problem with a policy like this seems pretty obvious: If your license gets suspended, you can no longer drive to work. If you do so anyway, you risk getting pulled over and sent to jail.

Thorpe doesn't seem to have fully thought that through. After Marilyn Rodriguez, a lobbyist for Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, pointed out that the state currently only suspends people's licenses for driving-related violations, he abruptly changed his mind and said that he'd be willing to take that part out.

Nonetheless, the measure narrowly failed after two members of Thorpe's own party, Representatives Noel Campbell and Travis Grantham, joined Democrats in voting against it.

In explaining why he'd introduced the bill in the first place, Thorpe said that he'd gotten the idea from "a county recorder." He didn't specify which one, and, during the hearing, a representative from the Arizona Association of Counties testified in opposition to the bill on behalf of all the state's county recorders.

Thorpe also pointed out — accurately! — that notices about upcoming elections often get returned as undeliverable because the addresses listed in the voter rolls are outdated.

The bill's opponents, including the Arizona Advocacy Network and the Arizona Students' Association, agree that's a valid concern. It's also something that the secretary of state's office is already working to address.

"I think we have a better solution," assistant secretary of state Lee Miller told the committee. 

Though technically neutral on the bill, Miller noted that his office already is in the process of joining the Electronic Registration Information Center. ERIC, as it's called for short, relies on U.S. Postal Service data to improve the accuracy of voter rolls, and is currently used by 21 other states.

During his testimony, Thorpe claimed that he was concerned about voters being disenfranchised because they aren't receiving official notices and voter guides in the mail. But advocates questioned whether punishing the average voter who hasn't updated their driver's license in while would really solve that problem.

"We agree that we need to do something to update the voter rolls," Shayna Stevens of the Arizona Students' Association said, adding that younger college students often don't know they need to update their address every time they move.

"The solution to this issue is educating these populations, rather than criminally punishing them," she said.

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Antonia Noori Farzan is a staff writer at New Times and an honors graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Before moving to Arizona, she worked for the New Times Broward-Palm Beach.