The League of Women Voters has filed a federal lawsuit against Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan on Saturday, as a result of a disagreement over when and how to change people’s addresses for voting purposes after they filed a change of address with the Motor Vehicle Division. Is it an example of “stamping their feet in front of a judge” – as claimed by Reagan’s office – or “protect(ing) thousands of Arizonans from the irreparable loss of their right to vote this November.” That will be among the questions for the judge to decide.
Joining LWV in bringing the suit are voter registration groups Promise Arizona and Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, with legal assistance by the ACLU (national and Arizona chapter) and others. They are asking that the Court order the Secretary to instruct County Recorders to count provisional ballots that may be voted at the voters’ old address (because that still shows as their voter registration address despite filing a change with MVD).
The Court is also being asked to order the Secretary of State to notify – before mid-September – all voters who filed change of addresses with MVD. The letter would instruct them as to their voting options and would include a voter registration form. (Click here to read the Complaint and related filings.)
After the voter registration groups reached an understanding last week with MVD, AHCCCS and DES about future cure to the agreed violations of the federal Motor Voter Act, Secretary Reagan announced that she had rejected the demands because changes are already scheduled for 2019 and trying it now “would only produce voter confusion.” Secretary of State Communications Director Matt Roberts told Arizona’s Politics that:
“It’s disappointing that organizations like the ACLU, Mi Familia Vota and the League of Women Voters are seemingly more interested in stamping their feet in front of a judge rather than accepting the fact that the changes they want are already scheduled. We’re confident the court will agree that sending a letter to five hundred thousand people saying the state changed their voter registration address right before an election isn’t the greatest idea.”
Reagan noted last week that the groups were demanding that the Secretary of State’s Office “unilaterally change” the voter reg addresses “without voters consent” and that they were preparing for legal action on that issue. That may be why the lawsuit does NOT ask for the registration addresses to be changed at the moment, but for the other two “remedial” actions.
Ceridwen Cherry, staff attorney for the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, explains to Arizona’s Politics:
“If a voter moves, their voter registration address is not updated and if they attempt to vote at the polling location that matches the address on their outdated voter registration (i.e. for their old address), they will be required to vote a provisional ballot at that location. But because of Arizona’s out of precinct ballot rules, that provisional ballot will not be counted, even for the races that the voter would be eligible to vote for at the polling location that matches their new address.
“As to timing, we filed the lawsuit as soon as it was clear that the SOS was not going to make these address updates on her own accord.”
The plaintiffs have asked for an immediate hearing, for the Secretary of State to produce a draft letter by August 31, which would be sent out by September 14. The voter registration deadline and when early ballots go out are in the first week of October.
Reagan is locked in what could be a tight primary battle for re-election, against Steve Gaynor. The centerpiece of Gaynor’s campaign is attacking a Motor Voter settlement agreement entered into with at least one of the legal groups involved in today’s action. The Democratic candidate is Katie Hobbs.