Damning New Report Details Partisan and Sometimes Racially Charged Motivations of Those Administering Arizona’s Elections – From Statewide Officials to County Election Board Members
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, in a letter sent to Secretary of State Michele Reagan (included below), Allied Progress called on the Arizona’s top election official to root out those motivated by partisanship and/or racial animus in the administration of the state’s elections. The request follows a months-long investigation into Arizona’s election administration resulting in the publication of a new report titled, “Something’s Rotten: Arizona’s Shameful Record of Voter Suppression and the Partisan and Sometimes Racially Charged Motivations of Those Administering Its Elections.”
The report details recent attempts by statewide elected officials, state legislators, and county election boards to make voter registration and voting more difficult in Arizona through efforts that disproportionately affect minority, senior citizen, disabled, and low-income voters. It also reveals the seemingly partisan political motivations behind these efforts and the sometimes racially charged and conspiratorial machinations of local officials entrusted with running impartial and unbiased elections in the Grand Canyon State.
“Secretary of State Michele Reagan must move swiftly to root out partisanship and racial animus in the administration of Arizona’s elections – both at the county election board level and in her own office. Regardless of how we vote, we all want elections that are free from political tampering,” said Allied Progress executive director Karl Frisch. He continued, “The seemingly partisan efforts by some Arizona politicians to reduce the participation of minority, senior citizen, disabled, and low-income voters in our democratic process should worry us all. This report shows in chilling detail how so many of those responsible for administering Arizona’s elections are ostensibly motivated by partisanship and, in too many cases, make disturbing racially charged and conspiratorial comments on social media.”
- Arizona Has Enacted Sweeping, Partisan Voter Suppression Policies: Arizona introduced strict voter ID and proof-of-citizenship requirements in 2004. Although the legality of the state’s proof-of-citizenship law (Proposition 200) is still being debated, the 2004 requirements have placed a disproportionate burden on Arizona’s Latino and Native American voters. More recently, the state has banned the practice of collecting and dropping off early ballots for voters, which had become a common tool for voter outreach groups that aimed to increase minority turnout, especially in rural areas.
These Policies Are Driven by Politics and Sometimes Race:
- Secretary of State Michele Reagan: As a state senator sponsored SB 1261 in 2013, a voter suppression bill that disproportionately affect minority voters. The bill sought to remove voters from the Permanent Early Voting List if they had failed to vote by mail in the previous two federal primary and general elections and then didn’t respond within 30 days to a mailed notice to explicitly state that they wanted to remain on the list. The bill also contained a provision that made it a felony for anyone to alter a voter registration form in any way – even a volunteer who cleaned up a sloppy form, such as by adding a zip code to a voter’s address. Reagan also sponsored SB 1003 in 2013, another voter suppression bill that sought to make it extraordinarily difficult for community groups and political organizations to collect and submit early ballots. Prior to the May 2016 special election, her office failed to send publicity pamphlets, which outline the arguments for and against the measures on the ballot, to more than 200,000 households in the timeframe required by law.
- Governor Doug Ducey: Signed a bill, HB 2023, earlier this year that prohibits voter outreach groups from collecting and submitting early ballots. The bill is currently being challenged in court. Signed a bill last year that cut much-needed county funding for elections by about $6 million.
- State Representative Michelle Ugenti-Rita: Primary sponsor of legislation aimed at making it more difficult for people to return absentee ballots, Ugenti-Rita is aware that some of the policies she pursues could be seen as racially charged. She once said, “There will be those who will say we are intolerant, we are racist. Let them. They’ve said it in the past, and they’ll say it now.”
- State Representative Anthony Kern: Has posted numerous right-wing conspiracy theories related to voter fraud on social media, though once admitted, “There are rumors out there of [voter fraud] happening, but I don’t know about any instances in particular.”
- State Senator Don Shooter: Introduced SB 1339 in 2015, which would have prohibited organizations from collecting and turning in early ballots and make any violation of the law a felony. Shooter claimed that the bill was necessary to prevent “ballot harvesting,” although opponents argued that there were no documented examples of organizations tampering with collected ballots. When pressed, Shooter offered a bizarre and unsubstantiated story about people placing ballots into a microwave with a bowl of water to steam them open and review the contents. “If the vote isn’t agreeable to the person who ‘harvested’ the ballot,” Shooter claimed, “it’s tossed.”
Local Election Administrators Motivated by Politics and Sometimes Race:
- Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell: Largely responsible for Maricopa County’s disastrous presidential preference election in March 2016, which led to allegations of voter suppression as well as a lawsuit; her office mailed thousands of Spanish-language early ballots voters that contained a major descriptive error, indicating that Proposition 124 was about education funding when it was actually about police and firefighters. Purcell’s decision to reduce the number of polling locations to 60, down from more than 400 in 2008, meant that Maricopa County only had one polling place for every 21,000 voters, while most Arizona counties had a polling place for every 2,500 voters. The reduction of polling locations disproportionately affected minority voters.
- Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez: Has voiced support for voter suppression bills that have been introduced in the state legislature and has stressed the importance of purging the voter rolls as a function of county recorders.
- Mohave County Elections Director Allen Tempert: Proposed a plan in 2015 to cut the number of precincts in Mohave County by 65 percent and reduce the number of polling places to 32.
- Cochise County Elections Director Katie Howard: Pushed through a plan in 2015 to cut the number of polling places in Cochise County by two-thirds. She has also liked far-right and racially charged posts on social media, including one in which an image of an African man in tribal dress was described as “Obama on spring break.”
Arizona’s Voter Suppression Group
- Verify the Vote Arizona: A True the Vote-affiliated group founded in Arizona before the 2012 election and former by Tea Party advocates, including Jennifer Wright, a one-time candidate for Phoenix mayor who received the endorsement of disgraced Sen. Russell Pearce. True the Vote has trained poll watchers around the country, purportedly as a way to discourage voter fraud at the polls, yet has been widely criticized for the aggressive tactics and for sending white poll watchers to majority-minority neighborhoods.
Text of Letter to Secretary of State Michele Reagan (PDF Download):
The Honorable Michele Reagan
Office of the Secretary of State
1700 W. Washington St., Fl. 7
Phoenix, AZ, 85007-2808
RE: Investigation into Partisanship/Racial Animus in Arizona Election Administration
Dear Secretary Reagan,
As Secretary of State you set the tone for how elections should be administered in Arizona. County election board members, state legislators, and other statewide elected officials look to your example when considering questions of voter registration and election administration.
That is why we write to you today: in hopes that your office will root out any Arizona election official–both at the county election board-level and in your own office–who is motivated by partisanship or racial animus.
Our request comes after a months-long investigation into Arizona’s election administration resulting in the publication of a new report included with this letter. It details recent attempts by state and local officials to make voter registration and voting more difficult through efforts that disproportionately affect minority, senior citizen, disabled, and low-income voters.
It also reveals the seemingly partisan political motivations behind many of these efforts and the unfortunately common occurrence of local election officials who should be demonstrating impartiality instead making partisan, racially charged, and/or conspiratorial comments publicly on social media.
Voters must be able to trust that our elections are being administered in a fair and even-handed way by officials committed to neutrality and objectivity.
As Arizona’s chief election official and steward of the state’s democratic process, it is your responsibility to hold accountable anyone who does not meet this high standard.
We hope you will rise to the occasion.
Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of our request. If you have any questions or need additional information, please don’t hesitate to contact us directly.
This report is one of several state-based investigations being released by Allied Progress this month.
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