Investigation Reveals Widespread Violations of Federal Voting Rights Laws in Arizona

Release Date: 
November 14, 2017

PHOENIX – An investigation by voting rights groups revealed Arizona agencies are persistently violating the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which Congress enacted to increase opportunities to register to vote and simplify the registration process. The groups detailed their findings and demanded action in a formal notice letter sent today to Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan.

“We were disappointed to learn that Arizona is not following critical voting rights laws,” said Robyn Prud’homme-Bauer, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Arizona. “Now they have a great chance to work with us to fix the situation so Arizonans can make our voices heard in the upcoming 2018 elections.”

The letter sent today by the ACLU, the ACLU of Arizona, Demos, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law was submitted on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Arizona, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, and Promise Arizona.

“These legal violations are undoubtedly leading to the exclusion of thousands of eligible voters in Arizona and disproportionately harms voter participation by low-income Arizonans and people of color,” said Sarah Brannon, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project.

The investigation uncovered widespread failures by the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) to automatically update voters’ address changes, systemic noncompliance by Arizona’s public assistance agencies in distributing voter registration applications, and extensive problems with regard to agencies’ handling of documentary proof of citizenship, which is required by Arizona law to vote in state and local elections. The investigation also found that many state agencies are not providing voter registration information in Spanish and Native American languages as required by the Voting Rights Act.

These violations may explain why Arizona public assistance agencies have reported a nearly 60 percent drop in voter registration applications over the past decade-and-a-half, despite significant increases in benefits applications.

“Our organizations have years of experience working with states to ensure compliance with the NVRA and other federal voting rights statutes,” said Adam Lioz, counsel and senior advisor for policy and outreach at Demos. “We look forward to working together with Secretary Reagan to bring Arizona into full compliance with federal laws and help tens of thousands more Arizonans gain access to the polls.”

The investigation included visits to agency offices, a review of public records, and an examination of voter registration data.

“At a time when states across the country are moving toward automatic voter registration, Arizona has fallen behind in supporting its citizens’ participation in the electoral process,” said Ezra Rosenberg, co-director of the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We are committed to ensuring Arizona adheres to the National Voter Registration Act and that all eligible Arizonans are offered a meaningful opportunity to register to vote.”

Legal violations exposed by the investigation include:

  • During change of address transactions conducted in ADOT offices, the agency requires voters to opt in to have their voter registration address updated, rather than using an opt-out procedure as required by the NVRA.
  • When Arizonans change their address online through ServiceArizona.com, the authorized website for ADOT’s Motor Vehicle Division (MVD), voter registration information is not automatically updated as required by the NVRA.
  • The Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), which administers the Arizona Medicaid program, are required by the NVRA to provide voter registration applications to all clients who do not decline an application in writing, but this is not happening in all circumstances.
  • AHCCCS does not have an adequate system in place for distributing voter registration applications to all clients who want them.
  • Third-party contractors that work with DES to sign Arizonans up for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program do not appear to offer voter registration services as required by the NVRA.
  • Staff at agency offices were unfamiliar with documentary proof of citizenship requirements and did not make the federal voter registration form available to clients who lacked documentary proof of citizenship.
  • Most state agency offices that are required by law to provide voter registration materials in Spanish and/or Native American languages are not fulfilling that obligation.

“We hope that we can work together to improve voter registration procedures so that more citizens can register before the mid-term elections,” said Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota.

The letter sent today to Secretary of State Reagan is available here.

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