The Arizona Capitol Times reported this week that Sen. Andrew Sherwood, D-Tempe, will file a bill in January for universal (automatic) voter registration in Arizona. Automatic voter registration bill faces uphill climb – again.
Sherwood filed a bill last January, but “it didn’t receive a committee assignment in the House until one of the final days of session in March, when it was assigned to the House Rules Committee as a procedural maneuver necessary for adjournment.”
Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan is generally opposed to automatic voter registration, and “Sherwood’s bill stands little chance of approval by the Republican-controlled Arizona Legislature, or Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.”
I have advocated for universal (automatic) voter registration for years, so I will offer Senator Sherwood the same advice I have offered to Democratic legislators who want to actually accomplish what they propose. Arizona is an autocratic one-party control state. The GOP legislature will not pass, let alone consider a Democratic bill, unless it has Republican sponsors and the Republicans want it to pass. This is not the case with election reforms that expand the franchise to vote.
Democrats have no choice but to follow the two-track method to accomplish anything: file the bill in the legislature, and file a citizens initiative with the Secretary of State, then start circulating petitions and collecting signatures.
If it appears the ballot measure has popular support and will qualify for the ballot, you gain the leverage needed for consideration of the bill. Republicans will be willing to negotiate on the bill for one reason: the Voter Protection Act (Prop. 105 – 1998), because laws passed by citizens initiative “require a three-fourths vote to amend the measure, to supersede the measure, or to transfer funds designated by the measure, and only if each furthers the purpose of the measure.” Republicans will prefer a bill passed by a simple majority, and may be willing to accept a compromise.
Unfortunately, this citizens initiative should have been filed this past January. A full year has now been wasted in which petitions could have been circulated and signatures gathered. A citizens initiative for a legislative act requires 150,642 signatures; a constitutional amendment requires 225, 963 signatures. The filing deadline is July 7, 2016. The shortness of time remaining makes this task all the more difficult.
If Senator Sherwood intends to file a citizens initiative for universal (automatic) voter registration, I would encourage him to also file these other reform measures if we really want to change the status quo in Arizona. A challenge to voting rights organizations for a package of ballot measures:
Universal (Automatic) Voter Registration
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The state of Oregon was also the innovator in all-mail voting. Oregon was the first state to institute it after a referendum in 1998. Washington followed in 2011 and Colorado soon after in 2013. All three states introduced all-mail locally and its popularity led to its widespread use before it became the standard ballot system.
Based upon data gathered by the United States Elections Project, the three states with all-mail systems have a recent history of consistently outperforming the U.S. turnout rate (which is usually pretty close to the average state turnout), especially during midterm elections.
In Arizona, early voting by mail-in ballot and the Permanent Early Voter List (PEVL) is so popular that it now exceeds more than 70 percent of ballots cast in most counties. It would not be a major change in current voter behavior to go to all-mail voting. The Oregon system retains “voting centers” on election day for those voters who want to maintain the ritual of voting on election day, so no voter is being deprived of traditional voting.
Constitutional Amendment to Move Statewide Office Elections to Presidential Election Years
Arizona has always had low voter turnout in comparison to other states, but the 2014 election was the lowest voter turnout since 1998, and 1942 during World War II before that. It is pathetic that our statewide elected officials are elected by a small minority of eligible voters in non-presidential election years. The vast majority of the Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP) of Arizona does not even vote. No candidate can legitimately claim an electoral “mandate” for his or her agenda based upon the pathetically low voter turnout in Arizona. No democracy can be sustained this way.
Arizona nominally improves its voter turnout in presidential election years. Amend the Arizona Constitution to move the election of statewide elected offices to presidential election years so that at least a plurality of eligible voters, as opposed to a small minority of eligible voters, may elect statewide offices. Then maybe there will be some legitimacy to claiming an electoral “mandate.”
Constitutional Amendment to Declare The Right to Vote a Fundamental Constitutional Right
The “right” to vote is a privilege rather than a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.The Arizona Constitution also does not secure a fundamental constitutional right to vote. So when our state legislature enacts laws to limit your right to vote, to limit access of minor party candidates to the ballot, and to limit your ability to bring citizens initiatives, referendums and recalls, the courts review these laws under the “rational basis” minimum standard of constitutional review.
If you want to prevent voter disenfranchisement and suppression efforts in the future, then amend the Arizona Constitution to declare, for example:
“A citizen’s franchise to vote is a fundamental constitutional right which shall not be denied without due process of law. Any citizen deprived of the franchise to vote as the result of a criminal conviction by a court of competent jurisdiction shall have the franchise to vote automatically restored upon completion of any sentence, probationary period, and payment of restitution. The courts shall review all election laws under the strict scrutiny standard of constitutional review to determine whether the state has a compelling state interest for the enactment of any such law.”
This would guarantee the right to vote as a fundamental constitutional right, and court review of legislation affecting the right to vote would require the strict scrutiny standard of review. This would be a game changer in blocking future attempts by the GOP to disenfranchise voters or to suppress voter turnout.
Time is short, as is money. But if Democrats do not use the citizens initiative process, they cannot accomplish what they hope to achieve through the legislature.