Threat of voter suppression rears ugly head in Arizona
In the pervasive pre-election madness leading up to November 2nd, reports have surfaced across the nation of GOP and Tea Party groups alleging massive voter fraud. Some are even organizing surveillance teams to monitor polling places. It is widely suspected and feared that the real reason for such shadowing is to intimidate and harass minority voters, who tend to vote for Democratic candidates.
I suppose it was only a matter of time before these tactics arrived in Arizona, and indeed they have.
What sets us apart is the fact that they've been instigated by the very man who is charged with maintaining law and order at… you guessed it…the polls. Sheriff Joe Arpaio recently sent out an email entitled "6 Days to STOP Illegals from Stealing the Election!" to his supporters at BanAmnestyNow.com, an anti-undocumented immigrant group with a proclaimed "800,000+" members for which he is an honorary co-chair.
The email is basically a diatribe against suspected "illegal alien" voter fraud in the 2010 elections. I've included some of the more salient excerpts (you can read it in its entirety in the sidebar). As you will see, it's full of many interesting theories called "facts", such as this:
FACT: The conspiracy between U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon goes far beyond the two joining forces in their lawsuit against Arizona's SB1070, anti-illegal immigration legislation. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer put it right when she explained the Obama-Calderon conspiracy the media recently: The Mexican government does not want our borders secure…They have made it very, very clear… Calderon believes that he is helping out the [Obama] administration and they are looking at it in a political mode to bring in newly registered illegal immigrants to register to vote.
After this somewhat bizarre rant on conspiracy theories that would surely make Mel Gibson feel a twinge of envy, the letter goes on to make wild claims about "illegal registrations" and it attempts to discredit groups that have done outreach to register Latino voters:
FACT: "The illegal registration of alien voters has become pervasive," says Kris Kobach, the attorney who helped Arizona write SB1070. The problem exists across the nation, bolstered by open-borders criminals determined to undermine our elections, including the unions, La Raza… even the White House.
FACT: The same pro-amnesty criminals working in states like Washington to turn out pro-amnesty voters have been working to register illegal voters all over the nation! In one Arizona congressional district, more than 65% of the 3,000+ new voters registrations submitted by Mi Familia Vota and One Arizona were found to be invalid – many of them to non-citizens.
It all sounds good, except for the fact that these claims have been shown to be completely false. The right-wing blogosphere failed to distinguish between signing up for the Permanent Early Voter List (PEVL) and actual voter registration. Many people send in duplicate requests for PEVL (for a change of address or even if they're unsure if they are on the list. I believe I was even a so-called offender because I wasn't sure if I had signed up or not) but this is not fraud and all duplicates or mis-applied PEVLs are sorted out by the county recorder. That is their job.
And of course the crux of the letter is a plea for volunteers to guard the polls against the foreign invaders (and apparently our president as well) and for "help" in the form of money.
Finally the letter closes in the usual fashion with a Jeffersonian quote and a fond farewell from the Hon. Co-Chairman himself:
Sadly, we are not just fighting criminals from other nations. We are fighting our own president and very determined individuals in America who want to disenfranchise U.S. Citizens of their votes.
"Our grassroots army of VOTER FRAUD PREVENTION VOLUNTEERS will stand vigilant across the nation. We will be the first and strongest line of defense to ensure that only legal citizens vote on November 2nd, but to do this, we need your help today!" "Thomas Jefferson reminds us "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance." America needs us now, more than ever, to do our part, to stand up for our nation, to defend her against those who would sacrifice her for mere political partisanship. Thank you in advance for your contribution ... And thank you to all who have registered to volunteer on Election Day!
For America, your friend, SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO Hon. Co-Chairman, BANAMNESTYNOW.COM"
Blog of Arizona was the first to post about this strange and disturbing letter. In the piece submitted by "AzBlueMeanie", this one very important bit of information was pointed out:
"Keep in mind that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department is responsible for the security of polling locations and will respond to any incidents involving voters, poll workers and poll observers at polling locations on Election Day. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Department is also responsible for the secure transportation of the ballots, and in past elections, the storage of ballots at facilities under the control of the Sheriff's Department."
So here we have the sheriff of the largest and most populous county in Arizona, who is also responsible for the security of the polling stations and ballots. Said sheriff is widely emailing an anti- immigrant screed to an estimated 800,000 people claiming that voter fraud is not only likely but immanent. And to top it all off, this sheriff is now promoting a "grassroots army of VOTER FRAUD PREVENTION VOLUNTEERS" designed to target the "illegal" Latino voter.
Does anyone besides me have a problem with this?
We can all roll our eyes at the ridiculous allegations that somehow the White House is conspiring with the government of Mexico to create hoards of "illegal" Democratic voters. We can scoff at the premise that voter groups are out there madly registering undocumented people. But quite frankly these absurdities are hardly even worth addressing.
What is far more important is that this overblown tirade is designed to inflame and motivate gullible people to go out and violate the Voter's Rights Act of 1965 by harassing minority voters. And what is most concerning is that it is coming from the very man whose department is where Maricopa County voters—including Latinos-- are supposed to be able to turn if their constitutional right to vote is hampered in any way.
As the Blog of Arizona post so aptly stated:
"If they have not already done so, I recommend that the lawyers for the Arizona Democratic Party, voting rights and election protection groups contact the Office of the U.S. Attorney for Arizona and the Voting Rights Section of the U.S. Department of Justice to alert them to this e-mail from ostensibly the chief law enforcement officer of Maricopa County."
I couldn't agree more. We need to let the Department of Justice know that time is running short. They are going to have to step up and protect Arizona's voters from a rogue sheriff who, by all appearances, has put his hatred of undocumented people over his sworn duties. Otherwise, things could get very ugly indeed.
I'm pretty sure Jefferson never intended "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance" to mean, "It's really ok to suppress voters as long as it suits our purpose." But who knows? Jefferson was, after all, a slaveholder. I think I'd prefer to put it this way:
Ya basta! Enough already!
Amy is an Arizona resident whose passion about human rights has evolved into activism since the passage of SB 1070. She’s originally from Maine, where she was part of the tourism industry for over 20 years. Her writings have appeared in the Tucson Sentinel, Truthout, and Open Salon. Her full-time work is as a volunteer and clinic director at a nonprofit free clinic she co-founded in downtown Phoenix.