The American Civil Liberties Union Arizona (ACLU) released a report on November 14th, alleging widespread violations of the National Voter Registration Act that could have hindered registration for tens of thousands of low-income Arizonans.
Federal law requires the Motor Vehicle Division (MDV) to automatically update voter registrations when someone changes his or her address, but researchers found many instances where the agency dropped the ball.
ACLU staff attorney Darrell Hill says public assistance agencies also are supposed to take proof of citizenship from their clients and update county records – so the clients’ voter registrations can be processed.
“People are putting in applications at some of these public assistance agencies,” he states. “They think they are going to be registered to vote. But on the back end with the County Recorder’s office, they’re not actually being registered to vote.”
The report alleges systemic violations but not any intent to keep people from registering.
Hill notes, for example, that the MVD is supposed to automatically offer the voter registration application, but instead gives it only upon request.
The report says the official website Service Arizona does not automatically update voter rolls when people change their address.
And the report accuses the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) and the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) of failing to offer all clients the voter registration application.
In a statement, Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan promised to meet with the ACLU and agency managers to review procedures to ensure compliance with the law.
The report found that public assistance agencies have seen a 60 percent drop in voter registrations over the past 15 years, despite an increase in the number of people applying for assistance.
And it found that Arizonans making less than $30,000 a year are much less likely to be registered than people making more than $60,000.
Hill notes that access to voting is a nonpartisan issue.
“It does impact the ability of low-income Arizonans to register to vote, so we’re really pushing for compliance,” he states. “And whether it helps one party or another isn’t really our concern.”
Statistics show that about 1 million Arizonans are eligible to vote but remain unregistered.
By statute, the secretary of state has 90 days to begin to comply, or face the possibility of litigation.
by Suzanne Potter
Public News Service/AZ
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