Lawless Arizona Republicans insist on voter suppression

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Daily Kos Voting Rights Roundup has this interesting piece to report:

In a damning audio recording obtained by the Associated Press, the Donald Trump re-election campaign’s senior adviser and counsel Justin Clark can be heard at a private event, which included the state Senate leader and state GOP executive, telling his fellow Republicans:

“Traditionally it’s always been Republicans suppressing votes in places … Let’s start protecting our voters. We know where they are. … Let’s start playing offense a little bit. That’s what you’re going to see in 2020. It’s going to be a much bigger program, a much more aggressive program, a much better-funded program.”

Clark claimed in response to the AP that his comments were about Republicans having been traditionally “falsely accused of voter suppression” based on the context, but the context instead suggests something entirely more nefarious, as we’ll explain below.

Back in December 2017, a federal court allowed the expiration of a legal settlement between the Republican National Committee and their Democratic counterpart that had barred the RNC from engaging in voter suppression activities under the guise stopping voter fraud, and an appeals court refused to reinstate it earlier this year.​

This consent decree had been in place since 1982 following the GOP’s efforts to purge and intimidate voters in New Jersey’s 1981 election for governor. In that race, the RNC had mailed sample ballots to voters in areas with large black and Latino populations, then tried to get election administrators to purge the registrations of anyone whose sample ballot was undeliverable in the mail. They also hired off-duty police officers to patrol precincts in those same neighborhoods under the guise of a “National Ballot Security Task Force.”

These acts of voter intimidation and attempts to remove eligible voters from the rolls might very well have determined the outcome of that race, as Republican Tom Kean defeated Democrat Jim Florio by less than one-tenth of 1% of the vote, just 1,779 ballots. They also landed the GOP in hot water, and the RNC had to take steps to avoid even the appearance that it supports voter suppression until the decree expired two years ago.

The 2020 election will be the first presidential contest in four decades in which the RNC hasn’t been bound by this consent decree. With Trump hellbent on doing everything within his authority to suppress the political power of communities of color, the GOP may be emboldened to run a voter suppression campaign of unprecedented organization. Without the consent decree, Trump and the RNC he controls will be able to freely coordinate with state Republican Parties.

Trump himself has previously signaled his intent to do just this: Right before the 2016 election at a campaign rally, Trump once more baselessly claimed voter fraud was widespread and made a racist dog-whistle referring to three cities that are predominantly black and Latino: “[T]ake a look at Philadelphia, what’s been going on, take a look at Chicago, take a look at St. Louis. Take a look at some of these cities, where you see things happening that are horrendous.”

Trump urged his supporters to “get everybody to go out and watch” the polls in what was widely interpreted as a call for intimidating voters in communities of color, and it’s in this context that Clark’s words are ominous. With federal oversight behind them, the GOP’s bogus “voter protection” efforts at intimidation could indeed be “a much bigger program, a much more aggressive program, a much better-funded program.”

The Washington Post editorialized in October about Republicans trying to suppress early voting and college student voting on campuses. Republicans escalate their strategy of voter suppression:

States should be trying to fix such problems, starting with competent staff and convenient polling locations and hours, rather than removing opportunities for eligible voters. Congress should require states to register people automatically when local government authorities have the information needed to do so — DMV records, for example.

And the Republican Party should stake its future on offering policies and candidates that can attract voters — not on keeping potential voters away from the polls.

Arizona Republicans, of course, are doing exactly the opposite. As I told you in an earlier post, Arizona Republican Lawmakers are at odds with Arizona secretary of state over ballot-counting procedures.

Arizona’s Queen of Voter Suppression and “shadow” Secretary of State, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, “is particularly upset that Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has proposed to give people who fail to sign the envelopes on their early ballots an additional five business days — even after Election Day — to come in and make the fix and have their votes counted. The senator said that’s not something allowed by law.”

She is separately preparing legislation that would specifically ban counting any ballot when the voter did not sign it, effectively trumping the change she said Hobbs is illegally proposing.

Wrong! It is pursuant to a court order.

Murphy Hebert, spokeswoman for Hobbs, said the provision was part of a deal to settle a federal court lawsuit filed against the state last year by the Navajo Nation. Attorneys for the nation argued that tribal members who did not know they were supposed to sign the envelopes or whose signatures did not match were effectively disenfranchised when election officials did not count their ballots.

Ugenti-Rita said that’s irrelevant — “I am Queen! I decide!” — contending Hobbs lacked the authority to agree to such a provision and instead should have sought legislative authority before settling.

But Hebert said Hobbs was not acting on her own. She said lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office were involved in the negotiations and advised Hobbs that inserting the provision about unsigned ballots was within the powers of her office.

Hebert added that three counties also are part of the settlement, “which means three county attorneys reviewed the agreement.”

“Definitely not pulled from thin air,” Hebert said.

Under current law, changes in the election manual must be approved by both the governor and the attorney general. The changes Hobbs has proposed — including the issue of unsigned ballot envelopes — remain under review.

That review is now complete, and our Republican Attorney General and Governor are doing the bidding of the Republican Queen of Voter Suppression, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, reversing the Attorney General’s office position having agreed to the court order inserting the provision about unsigned ballots being within the powers of the Secretary of State. And the Navajo Nation is prepared to sue again.

The Arizona Capitol Times reports, Navajo Nation threatens AG with lawsuit over elections procedures:

The Navajo Nation is threatening a new lawsuit against the state over changes demanded by Attorney General Mark Brnovich to a proposed election procedures manual.

In a letter obtained by Capitol Media Services, Doreen McPaul, attorney general for the tribe, told the Attorney General’s Office that Secretary of State Katie Hobbs had agreed to allow people who forgot to sign their early ballot envelopes an opportunity to “cure” the defect, coming in to sign the envelopes up to five days after the election.

That would ensure that the votes are counted.

More to the point, McPaul noted, that deal ended a 2018 lawsuit filed by the Navajo Nation against the state and several counties charging that election practices illegally discriminated against tribal members and kept them from having their votes counted. Hobbs then put the terms of that deal into the latest version of the state Elections Manual.

But Brnovich is objecting, saying there is no legal authority for her to do that.

So why did you sign off on this agreement in 2018 genius?

What makes Brnovich’s protest crucial is that the revisions can take place if and only when he agrees to it. And an aide to Brnovich said he will provide his approval only if the manual removes the language about voters being able to cure their ballots after Election Day.

McPaul, in her letter, warned of legal implications.

“By excluding this language … the attorney general will be teeing up additional litigation,” she wrote, creating a situation in which some counties would allow voters to “cure” their votes and some would not.

And McPaul said that, whatever Brnovich thinks of state law, federal law mandates that voters have an opportunity to cure their ballots.

At the heart of the legal fight is the 2018 lawsuit saying that election practices by the state and Coconino, Apache and Navajo counties make it difficult, if not impossible, for reservation residents to cast early ballots. That includes the failure to provide instructions in the native language on how to fill them out and that the envelopes must be signed and dated.

Note: These ballot language requirements were previously covered by the Department of Justice Voting Rights Section preclearance review under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, until the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529 (2013). Now it’s fair game for the states to discriminate.

The lawsuit said the problem was complicated by the fact that some counties refused to give residents time after the election to fix early ballots where the envelope was not signed or a signature did not match.

Earlier this year, responding to a separate lawsuit, the Legislature approved a measure requiring county recorders to try to contact people if the signatures on their returned early ballots did not match signatures on file. That law gives people up to five business days to come in and fix the problem.

But Hobbs and the counties, in settling the lawsuit, also agreed to apply the same provision in cases where early ballots turned up with no signature at all. And Hobbs inserted that language into the draft Elections Manual which is supposed to be the procedure followed in all 15 counties.

Brnovich, for his part, contends Hobbs in essence was illegally making law and demanded the provision be stripped. Hobbs is expected to go along.

Wrong, again!

It is that change that McPaul said will land the state back in court.

“The curing of early ballots does not violate any state or federal laws,” she wrote, disagreeing with Brnovich’s conclusion. “Not allowing curing, however, violates federal law.”

The bottom line, McPaul said, is that the deal that settled the Navajo Nation lawsuit clearly anticipated and required that the state allow people to go to county election offices and sign their ballot envelopes.

“All parties agreed that voters deserve appropriate due process and equal protection when voting,” she wrote to Brnovich’s office. Without a single standard in the Elections Manual, McPaul said, there will be inconsistencies.

“By only allowing some voters an opportunity to cure and not others, the attorney general is advocating a policy to deny voters equal protection and due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment,” McPaul said.

Brnovich isn’t the only one going after Hobbs over the Elections Manual.

Earlier this week, [the Queen of Voter Suppression] Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, introduced legislation to go even further than the changes Brnovich wants. Her SB 1032 says if a signature is missing from an early ballot envelope, “the county recorder or other officer in charge of elections shall not allow an elector to add the elector’s signature and the ballot shall not be tabulated,” even if the error is found before Election Day.

Hobbs aide Murphy Hebert said her boss will fight that change.

“This bill would affect people who clearly expressed an intent to vote but may have simply forgotten to sign the ballot envelope,” Hebert said. “It’s a completely unnecessary barrier to voting.”

But Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez, a Democrat, is siding with Brnovich and Ugenti-Rita, both Republicans, and against fellow Democrat Hobbs. In a letter to Brnovich and Gov. Doug Ducey obtained by Capitol Media Services, she said allowing voters to cure unsigned ballots goes beyond what is permitted under state law and contrary to precedent.

Rodriguez is neither a lawyer nor a judge. And the previous court order says what it says. Arizona has a long history of voter suppression, so citing that “precedent” is not a good argument.

“No county in Arizona has allowed a voter to come in after Election Day to place their signature on an incomplete early ballot affidavit,” she wrote.

Well maybe they should. Being forgetful — something that everyone does at times — hardly seems a legitimate reason to disenfranchise someone of their vote.