A press release from democracy charity Demos written by Rebecca Pace
PHOENIX−Voting rights organizations filed a lawsuit against Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan on Saturday, nine months after notifying her office of significant federal voting rights violations
The lawsuit, filed by the League of Women Voters of Arizona, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, and Promise Arizona, details how Arizona has continued to engage in known violations of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), a law Congress enacted in 1993 to increase the number of registered voters and maintain accurate, up-to-date voter registration rolls. The ACLU, the ACLU of Arizona, Demos, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law are representing the plaintiff organizations.
“For years, the Secretary of State has failed to use readily available address information from ADOT to keep Arizona’s voter rolls up to date and make sure Arizonans can exercise their fundamental right to vote,” said Stuart Naifeh, senior counsel at Demos. “Arizona’s systematic failure to follow federal law has resulted in thousands of ballots being thrown out. Secretary Reagan apparently has no difficulty using ADOT records to keep people off the voter rolls when they haven’t provided documentary proof of citizenship. The Secretary of State should use that same information to keep lawfully registered voters from falling off the rolls when they move, as the law demands.”
Secretary Reagan is failing to ensure that Arizona voters’ addresses are updated in accordance with federal “Motor Voter” requirements. The NVRA requires states to update voters’ registration addresses when there is a driver’s license address change, unless the voter opts out of updating their voter registration address. This is not happening in Arizona. The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) regularly sends driver’s license address changes to Secretary Reagan’s agency, but the Secretary of State does not use this information to update voter registration records.
“We are asking the court to step in immediately and correct Secretary Reagan’s failures. Not doing so will impose unnecessary and legally prohibited burdens on voters,” said Sarah Brannon, a senior attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “We are asking the court to prevent the ongoing violations of the NVRA and protect the right to vote.”
“A change of address for voter registration must occur automatically,” said Robyn Prud’homme-Bauer, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Arizona. “Not doing so deprives qualified voters in Arizona of the voter registration services they are entitled to under federal law and can result in votes not being counted.”
In November 2017, voting rights groups informed Secretary Reagan that these legal violations deny qualified citizens the right to vote and disproportionately harm voter participation by low-income Arizonans and people of color.
“It has been nearly 10 months since we sent a notice letter to Secretary Reagan, notifying her office of numerous NVRA violations,” said Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona. “Secretary Reagan’s failure to remediate the ongoing violations demonstrates that she is unwilling to take action to protect the right to vote in upcoming elections. Problems with voter registration are a primary reason that people are unable to vote. These practices are doing nothing less than suppressing the right of people to participate in our democratic process.”
Failing to update voter address information leaves many voters at risk of disenfranchisement. Voters whose addresses are incorrect in the voter rolls may not receive an early ballot or may be forced to cast a provisional ballot on Election Day. In Arizona, provisional ballots are not counted if they are cast out-of-precinct.
“Secretary Reagan’s failure amounts to voter disenfranchisement and we are particularly concerned about how this is impacting the Latino community,” said Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota. “The Secretary of State should aim to make voting more inclusive and accessible for all, and should never be dismissive of calls to protect the right to vote. Our community is eager to participate in elections and, because of Secretary Reagan’s actions, they now have to seek out voter registration materials and opportunities to make sure their voices are being counted, when those resources should have been provided by the Secretary of State.”
Arizona’s violations of federal law mean many qualified individuals will not vote in the 2018 election cycle. Failing to update voter registration addresses in accordance with the law has the potential to affect negatively a huge number of Arizonans. Almost 70 percent of Arizonans changed their residential address in the decade between 2000 and 2010, the second highest rate of any state. In 2016, approximately 75 percent of votes cast in Arizona were ballots received by mail.
“The National Voter Registration Act was meant to make it easier for voters to register and to stay registered to vote,” said Arusha Gordon, counsel for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Voting Rights Project. “Arizona’s practices are antithetical to these goals. With this suit, we seek to make sure that Arizona voters who have moved since the last election, due to work, school, family or any other reason, will not be turned away at the polls.”
In the suit, plaintiffs are asking the court to order the Secretary of State to count the federal election votes casts by the impacted registered voters regardless of where in Arizona they cast their ballots and to send out a mailer to all impacted registered voters informing them of the problem and the options for correcting their voter registration addresses.