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Guest opinion

Voter suppression is alive and well at Arizona Legislature

Is your representative in the Arizona Legislature trying to prevent you and your neighbors from voting? You might assume that those active in the political process would encourage others to participate. Sadly, the reverse is often true. Voter suppression is alive and well in the state Legislature.

In this year’s legislative session, bills have been introduced that could unfairly deprive Arizonans the right to vote, discriminate against certain citizens, and put costly and unneeded laws on the books.

Representatives have proposed bills that would: drop voters from the Permanent Early Voter List if they fail to vote in 2 consecutive elections (HB1188); require presentation and confirmation of ID’s at early voting centers (HB1072); prohibit early voters from dropping off ballots on election day forcing them to wait in line to cast provisional ballots (HB1046); restrict early emergency voting (HB1090); make it a crime to pay people to register voters unless they work for political parties (HB2616); and call out voters who use of the federal voter registration form (HB2039).

Other bills have been proposed that would restrict democracy by tightening up petitions, initiatives, and referendums.

So, you may think, “What’s the problem with requiring a photo ID to vote? There’s a photo on your driver’s license. Lots of credit cards now have photo ID’s. Even a Costco membership card has your picture on it.” But the fact is, not everyone drives, has credit cards, or shops at Costco. Voter ID laws can deprive voters of their right to vote, reduce participation, and stand in opposition to our country’s long history of including more Americans in the democratic process. Studies have found that 11 percent of people in the United States do not have government-issued photo identification. These voters are disproportionately low-income, racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, and people with disabilities. 

Even if a photo ID is offered free by the state, voters still face obstacles getting documentation. For example, the combined cost of getting a duplicate of a birth certificate including fees and travel expenses can range from $75 to $175. For lower-income Americans, people with disabilities, the elderly, or those in rural areas without access to transportation this burden discourages voting. A 2014 Government Accounting Office study found that strict photo ID laws reduce turnout by 2-3 percentage points, which can translate into tens of thousands of votes lost in a single state.

Intentionally or not, voter ID laws are also discriminatory against minority voters who disproportionately lack ID. Nationally, up to 25 percent of African-American citizens of voting age lack government-issued photo ID, compared to only 8 percent of whites. And, discrimination continues at the polling place. A Caltech/MIT study found that minority voters are more frequently questioned about ID than are white voters which can leave them feeling intimidated about voting.

When all is said and done, voter ID laws are a solution in search of a problem. Voter impersonation—the only type of fraud that photo IDs can prevent—is extremely rare. A recent study found that, since 2000, there were only 31 credible allegations of voter impersonation – during which time over 1 billion ballots were cast.

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So, what can you do? The next time you prepare to vote for your Arizona legislative district’s representative, find out if they support democracy and your right to vote, or if they are trying to discourage you and your neighbors from voting. And, then, vote accordingly!

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