New report finds Arizona voting policies present greatest burden to voters in 10 swing states

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  • Dale Eisman

Mary Boyle, Common Cause, (202) 736-5770

Tim Rusch, Demos, (212) 389-1407

Proof of citizenship requirement, inadequate outreach to protected groups cited as excessive hurdles to voting

Washington, DC – A new report ranks Arizona last among 10 states evaluated for voting laws, concluding that the state’s policies on voter registration, its proof of citizenship requirement, and its record of inadequate outreach to groups protected by the Voting Rights Act present excessive hurdles to voting. Moreover, the report asserts that Arizona’s lack of laws prohibiting voter intimidation practices, combined with strong anti-immigrant sentiment among some residents, presents ripe circumstances for voter suppression and is of concern to voting rights advocates.

The report, “Voting in 2010: Ten Swing States,” by national policy centers and election watchdogs Common Cause and Demos, examines Arizona’s election laws and policies and highlights the impact they could have on voter participation in the upcoming mid-term elections that feature a competitive gubernatorial race and three close House races. The Latino vote is critical in all these races, and Arizona’s voting policies could have a game-changing impact on election results.

The report also reviews voting laws and policies in Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio.

“One of the biggest concerns in this election, especially in Arizona, is that the ugly immigration debate will be leveraged into the elections and the voting process,” said Tova Wang, Senior Democracy Fellow at Demos and author of the report. “We are worried about the use of vote suppression tactics such as challenges at the polls and bogus charges of noncitizen voting being used as a way to impose obstacles to voting that could affect a wide range of voters, but primarily people of color. Just the climate that has been created could have an impact on its own.”

“When the stakes are this high, the rules of the game-and whether or not they are enforced-make all the difference” said Susannah Goodman, director of election reform for Common Cause and co-author of the report. “This report shows where we need better rules in Arizona, and better referees.”

The report examines potential problem areas including: voter registration, ID issues (which can present burdens to those who don’t hold traditional identification such as a driver’s license), provisional ballots, voter suppression and deception tactics, caging and challenge laws, voting by overseas and military voters, and challenges for new citizens and ethnic minorities. A summary chart evaluates each state’s practices, and a set of recommendations is offered for improvement of these voting procedures.

The report found a number of notable obstacles to full voter participation in Arizona.

Citizens must register to vote a full 29 days prior to the election, which could block some Arizonans from participating.

Restoration of voting rights is only available to individuals with a single felony conviction. Persons with two or more felonies are permanently disenfranchised. Not only is it problematic that many people who have served their time are disenfranchised, but the distinction between single and multiple offenders confuses even election officials, leading to the potential disenfranchisement of people who should have their rights restored.

Arizona is the only state that requires proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. Many citizens are not able to produce such documentary proof.

All voters must present either one form of photo ID or two forms of non-photo ID. If the voter does not have what the poll worker deems the requisite identification, he is forced to cast a provisional ballot. Some voters will not have the necessary ID.

Voters who cast conditional provisional ballots must provide proper identification to the county recorder within three to five business days in order for the ballot to be counted. Provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct will not be counted.

Arizona’s laws regarding challengers at the polling site are lax: voters may be challenged by any qualified elector of the same county and standards for initiating challenge procedures are low.

The absence of specific laws targeting deceptive practices such as dissemination of misinformation about the electoral process leaves voters vulnerable to confusion and disenfranchisement.

Arizona has historically had inadequate outreach to certain language minority communities covered by the Voting Rights Act, and gaps in coverage for qualified and trained bilingual poll workers.

On the positive side, the report found some exemplary voting laws and procedures which other states would do well to emulate.

Registrants are notified by mail within 30 days of the registrar placing their name on the rolls. If the non-forwardable notice is returned, a follow-up notice and new registration form are sent to the forwarding address. Non-respondents are transferred to the inactive voter list but may still vote upon providing affirmation of their residence at the polling place.

On the homepage for the secretary of state’s elections website, there are subtitles in Spanish below most of the major headings. On the voter information page, each section can be viewed in either English or Spanish.

Click here for the full report, executive summary and other swing state information.