A reform agenda for voting rights

0
153

Despite all the horror stories about “red state” voter suppression efforts in this election, there was also some good news for voting rights in the states as well. The New York Times reports, Before the Fights Over Recounts: An Election Day Vote on Voting:

In Tuesday’s elections [there was] a wave of actions aimed at making voting easier and fairer that is an often-overlooked strain in the nation’s voting wars.

Floridians extended voting rights to 1.4 million convicted felons. Maryland, Nevada and Michigan were among states that made it easier to register and vote.

From the Brennan Center for Justice:

Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) is gaining momentum across the country. Currently fifteen states and D.C. have approved the policy, meaning that over a third of Americans live in a jurisdiction that has either passed or implemented AVR. A brief history of AVR’s legislative victories and each state’s AVR implementation date can be found here. This year alone, twenty states have introduced legislation to implement or expand automatic registration, and an additional eight states had bills carry over from the 2017 legislative session. A full breakdown of these bills, as well as those introduced in 2015, 2016, and 2017, is available here.

Where AVR Has Passed 11-8-18

Michigan, along with Colorado and Missouri, limited politicians’ ability to directly draw, and gerrymander, district lines. Utah, where votes are still being tallied, appears poised to do the same.

Independent redistricting commissions already existed in six states – Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, and Washington.

It was as if states around the country were pulled in two directions at once — with measures aimed at broadening voter participation coming on the heels of recent laws and regulations making it harder to register and vote.

Still, for all the charges and countercharges on voter suppression, most of the momentum Tuesday was on measures quite likely to broaden voter participation and limit gerrymanders.

“It is clear when you put democracy reforms on the ballot, those measures win overwhelmingly,” Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, said. “From our perspective, we are going to be taking a hard look at where we can move more of these reforms in 2020 and beyond.”

I have long advocated for a package of election reforms in Arizona. This has to be done by the citizens initiative process because our Tea-Publican controlled Arizona legislature and Governor have been hostile to any reforms that make it easier for Arizonans to register and to vote.

With a new Democratic Secretary of State, we now have an ally in this effort.

UNIVERSAL (AUTOMATIC) VOTER REGISTRATION

Arizona is among 36 states with online voter registration. This a good thing, but it is not good enough.

Arizona must now take the next step and enact universal (automatic) voter registration, joining fifteen other states and the District of Columbia. If Arizona is going to modernize its elections computer systems to guard against malicious hacking, then let’s build a state-of-the-art secure computer system to fully accommodate an automatic voter registration system. Don’t settle for half-measures as our legislature all too frequently does.

This should be a top priority for election rights advocates. Arizona’s new Secretary of State, Katie Hobbs, campaigned in favor of it. File the initiative before the new legislative session begins and pursue the bill in the Arizona legislature – HB 2052 failed this year – on a dual-track strategy to gain leverage.

UPDATE: Congressional Democratic leaders say the first legislative vote in the House will come on H.R. 1, a magnum opus of provisions that Democrats believe will strengthen U.S. democratic institutions and traditions. Democrats Say Their First Bill Will Focus On Strengthening Democracy At Home:

The bill would establish automatic voter registration and reinvigorate the Voting Rights Act, crippled by a Supreme Court decision in 2013. It would take away redistricting power from state legislatures and give it to independent commissions.

Other provisions would overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which declared political spending is First Amendment free speech; they would mandate more disclosure of outside money and establish a public financing match for small contributions.

Ethics language in the bill would strike closer to current controversies. When President Trump took office, he said — accurately — that the ban on conflicts of interest doesn’t cover presidents. The bill would close that loophole, while expanding the anti-bribery law and requiring presidential candidates to make their tax returns public.

PORTABILITY OF VOTER REGISTRATION

Arizona has a problem with voters casting provisional ballots, often due to the fault of the voter in not updating his or her voter registration when they move. Six states have systems of portable registration that allow registered voters who move to cast valid ballots even if they do not update their registrations before Election Day. This would greatly reduce the number of provisional ballots and allow the votes of citizens who took the time to vote to be counted.

ELECTION DAY CORRECTION (SAME DAY VOTER REGISTRATION)

It is possible to eliminate provisional ballots entirely with same day voter registration , allowing eligible citizens to register or to update their records on Election Day at the polls. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia currently provide for same day voter registration.

The objection that I hear from election integrity advocates is that this system requires online connectivity and that the system could possibly be hacked. But I have seen no credible evidence that any of the states currently employing same day voter registration have suffered such a security breach. And I did recommend a state-of-the-art secure computer system above to allay these concerns.

ALL-MAIL ELECTION (VOTE-BY-MAIL)

At least 22 states have provisions allowing certain elections to be conducted entirely by mail. In Arizona, most municipal elections and special district elections are already vote-by-mail.

In Arizona, upwards of 75% of ballots cast are mail-in ballots. Arizona is fast approaching the point that it only makes economic sense to go to all-mail elections — with voting centers available on Election Day for those who prefer the tradition of voting on Election Day.

Oregon (2000), Washington (2011) and Colorado (2013)—hold all elections entirely by mail .In California, some counties are currently permitted to conduct all-mail elections. After 2020, the option will be available to all counties in the state. Utah permits individual counties to determine if they would like to conduct all-mail election or not. In 2018, Hawaii passed house bill 1401, which authorizes a county with a population less than 100,000 to conduct a pilot program for the 2020 primary and general elections. Voting Centers, rather than precincts, are available for those who prefer to maintain the tradition of voting on Election Day.

Arizonans did consider the “Your Right to Vote by Mail Act” citizens initiative, Prop. 205 in 2006, and soundly rejected it. But this was over a decade ago, before vote-by-mail became the preference of voters in Arizona. A similar ballot measure today would likely pass.

The objection that I hear from election integrity advocates is that vote-by-mail is where voter fraud can occur, typically double voting by the dual residency resident who votes in one state and votes by mail in Arizona. These cases are rare. Investigation finds little evidence of voter fraud in key voter ID states:

In Arizona, 13 cases were prosecuted for double voting [between 2012 and 2016]. One of those was Mesa resident Regina Beaupre, who was convicted in 2015 after voting in Michigan and Arizona. She was 71 years old. Carol Hannah was similarly caught for voting in Arizona and Colorado. She argued in court that both cases involved local races and didn’t constitute double voting, because no candidates appeared on both ballots. An appeals court agreed and threw out the 2015 conviction. Neither of these cases would have been prevented with voter ID.

Arizonans have already become accustomed to counting the vote taking a couple of weeks. A full and fair vote is far more important than satisfying the human desire for instant gratification. Patience is a virtue.

RESTORATION OF FELON VOTING RIGHTS

In Arizona, the law is simple for those persons who have been convicted of just one felony. Once those persons have served all their prison time, completed their parole or probation, and paid all their fees and fines, their voting rights are automatically restored.

For those convicted of more than one felony, the law is much more complex. They must wait two years after they’ve paid all their debts to society, then they must apply to the sentencing court for the restoration of their rights. Arizona has complex law for felons to restore voting rights.

Restoration of felon rights varies widely by state:

In summary:

  • In Maine and Vermont, felons never lose their right to vote, even while they are incarcerated.
  • In 14 states and the District of Columbia, felons lose their voting rights only while incarcerated, and receive automatic restoration upon release.
  • In 21 states, felons lose their voting rights during incarceration, and for a period of time after, typically while on parole and/or probation. Voting rights are automatically restored after this time period. Former felons may also have to pay any outstanding fines, fees or restitution before their rights are restored as well.
  • In 13 states (including Arizona) felons lose their voting rights indefinitely for some crimes, or require a governor’s pardon in order for voting rights to be restored, or face an additional waiting period after completion of sentence (including parole and probation) before voting rights can be restored. These states are in the fourth category.

If Florida can reverse its post-Civil War felon disenfranchisement law intended to disenfranchise African-Americans, certainly Arizona can make restoration of felon voting rights easier and fairer.

THE OUTLAW DITY MONEY INITIATIVE

The Outlaw Dirty Money initiative would have been on the ballot in 2018, but organizers started petition signature gathering too late and did not have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot after Republicans challenged signatures under Arizona’s “strict compliance” review.

The solution is simple: refile the initiative – TODAY! – and give the effort a full year and one-half to collect far more signatures than Republicans can ever hope to disqualify to put it on the ballot in 2020. If it is on the ballot, it will pass. Just do it, Terry!

MOVING STATEWIDE ELECTIONS TO PRESIDENTIAL YEARS

Arizona currently elects statewide offices in non-presidential election years aka mid-term election years, when voter turnout is substantially far less than in presidential election years. It only makes sense to maximize the vote for statewide elections by holding the election during presidential election years. This would require amending the Arizona Constitution, which requires a ballot measure and a vote of the electorate.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT TO MAKE VOTING A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT

Amend the Arizona Constitution to declare the franchise to vote is a fundamental constitutional right, and that election laws are subject to the strict scrutiny standard of  review by the courts. Had this provision been in the constitution, much of the voter suppression legislation enacted by Tea-Publicans in the Arizona legislature over the past decade or so would not have passed constitutional muster and been struck down by the courts.

A citizens initiative could be filed today for the 2020 ballot if voting rights advocates have their measure(s) drafted and are ready to file (looking at you Outlaw Dirty Money). Use the maximum amount of time available to manage collecting valid signatures to qualify for the 2020 ballot.

Too many initiatives fail because proponents wait until the last minute to file and then must rely on the petition circulation companies who do little quality control in collecting valid signatures (the bad signature rate typically exceeds 40%). This also puts proponents under financial strain. And Arizona’s “strict compliance” law adds an additional burdensome management issue to qualify for the ballot.





Support volunteer citizen journalism at the Blog for Arizona with a donation today. Your secure contribution keeps the Blog online and sustains a free press in Arizona.


Previous articleArizona became a purple state in 2018
Next articleBalance is the key
AZ BlueMeanie
The Blue Meanie is an Arizona citizen who wishes, for professional reasons, to remain anonymous when blogging about politics. Armed with a deep knowledge of the law, politics and public policy, as well as pen filled with all the colors stolen from Pepperland, the Blue Meanie’s mission is to pursue and prosecute the hypocrites, liars, and fools of politics and the media – which, in practical terms, is nearly all of them. Don’t even try to unmask him or he’ll seal you in a music-proof bubble and rendition you to Pepperland for a good face-stomping. Read blog posts by the infamous and prolific AZ Blue Meanie here.