Are Some Arizonans Being Deprived of Their Voting Rights?

A group of voting rights activists says some Arizona agencies are playing fast and loose with the rules set by the National Voter Registration Act. And they're putting the government on notice.

The band of advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, sent a letter to Secretary of State Michele Reagan's office today, laying out a list of violations they say are excluding eligible Arizona voters — particularly those who make less money.

The after months of visits to agency offices, a review of public records, and an examination of voter registration data, a press release from the ACLU of Arizona says the groups have dug up the following legal problems:

  • The Arizona Department of Transportation isn’t using the opt-out procedure required by the NVRA to automatically update voters’ address changes. Beyond that, ADOT's website for the Motor Vehicle Division, ServiceArizona.com, doesn’t automatically update address changes made online.
  • The Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), also known as Arizona’s Medicaid program, aren’t proving voter registration applications to all clients who don’t decline them in writing in all circumstances. AHCCCS, in particular, doesn’t have what the ACLU considers an “adequate system” in place for distributing these applications.
  • Third-party contractors that work with DES to sign Arizonans up for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, better known as SNAP, don’t appear to offer voter registration services as far as the ACLU of Arizona and their investigation team can tell.
  • Under Arizona law, in order to register, voters have to provide documents proving they’re citizens. But on the federal level, voters simply need to sign a form swearing under penalty of perjury that they are citizens of the United States. The ACLU says staff members at agency offices were unfamiliar with these proof of citizenship requirements and did not make the federal voter registration form available to clients who didn’t have documents proving they were citizens.
  • “Most” state agency offices aren’t providing voter registration information in Spanish and Native American languages, although it's a requirement of the law.

All in all, voting-rights activists are saying specific Arizona agencies that play small parts in the large scheme of voter access aren't fulfilling all of their duties. They may just be pieces of the bigger voting access puzzle, but that doesn't mean they're not chipping away at the number of people in the state who are voting.

Darrell Hill, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Arizona who worked on the case, told Phoenix New Times these violations are a "systematic failure across agencies that has the potential to prevent or put up obstacles to many voters who are just trying to access the system."

Hill noted that low-income voters will be disproportionately affected by the infractions, as they're the people most likely to utilize the SNAP and AHCCS programs. These are the same voters who may not have the means and time to register to vote through other channels, Hill pointed out.

In a statement provided by Reagan's communication's director, Matt Roberts, the secretary of state said she's reviewing the letter and plans to "facilitate a meeting between these state agencies, local election officials, and the ALCU."

The statement continued:

"As the State’s Chief Elections Officer, we take the National Voter Registration Act very seriously.

Throughout my administration, we’ve worked with state agencies to achieve continuous improvement in the ability of Arizonans to register to vote anytime they interact with state government. As we further clarify the policies, procedures, and responsibilities of voter registration with state and local administrators, we’re confident that Arizona will remain in full compliance with the NVRA."

Hill says the voting rights act requires parties that find violations of the act to submit a letter of notice to the Secretary of State before pursuing a lawsuit.

"This is our notice letter that lets the state know if they don’t cure the violations in 90 days, we have the option of pursuing litigation at the end of that time," Hill said. "We're hoping the state will make the necessary changes before litigation is necessary."

The letter was sent by ACLU, the ACLU of Arizona, Demos, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Arizona, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, and Promise Arizona.

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