Groups: Agen­cies break­ing regis­tra­tion law


PHOENIX — A coali­tion of vot­ing rights groups is charg­ing that state agen­cies are vi­o­lat­ing fed­eral laws de­signed to pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple to regis­ter.

In a 15-page com­plaint Tues­day to Sec­re­tary of State Michele Rea­gan, at­tor­neys for the groups de­tailed what they say are flaws in both state statutes and the pro­cesses used by state agen­cies in get­ting peo­ple signed up to vote. The lawyers say if the prob­lems are not cor­rected within 90 days, they will sue.

At­tor­ney Dar­rell Hill of the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of Ari­zona de­fended the dead­line.

“The state has been aware of some of these prob­lems for quite some time,’’ he told Capi­tol Me­dia Ser­vices. Hill said groups have filed sim­i­lar com­plaints in the past.

As far as what hap­pens at the end of 90 days, Hill sug­gested the or­ga­ni­za­tions will hold off go­ing to court “if there’s sig­nif­i­cant com­pli­ance’’ within that pe­riod.

Hill said the state’s prac­tices vi­o­lates the Na­tional Voter Regis­tra­tion Act, the 1993 fed­eral law ap­proved by Congress with the aim of pro­vid­ing ad­di­tional ways for peo­ple to be able to regis­ter to vote. And he said they also un­fairly — and il­le­gally — dis­crim­i­nate against the poor and peo­ple of color.

In a pre­pared state­ment, Rea­gan said she takes the NVRA “very se­ri­ously.’’

And while Rea­gan said she be­lieves Ari­zona is “in full com­pli­ance’’ with the law, she agreed to set up meet­ings be­tween the lawyers for those who filed the com­plaint and the state agen­cies whose prac­tices they con­tend run afoul of the statute.

There was no im­me­di­ate re­sponse from those agen­cies who tech­ni­cally re­port not to Rea­gan but to Gov. Doug Ducey.

The NVRA has re­sulted in a va­ri­ety of re­quire­ments for states to ease the regis­tra­tion process.

For ex­am­ple, there is the “mo­tor voter’’ law which re­quires states to pro­vide peo­ple an op­por­tu­nity to regis­ter when they get or re­new a driver’s li­cense or state-is­sued ID card. The fed­eral law, ac­cord­ing to the lawyers, says that ac­tion also will “serve as an ap­pli­ca­tion for voter regis­tra­tion’’ un­less the per­son does not sign the regis­tra­tion ap­pli­ca­tion.

But what hap­pens, ac­cord­ing to the lawyers rep­re­sent­ing the League of Women Vot­ers, the Mi Fa­milia Voter Ed­u­ca­tion Fund and Prom­ise Ari­zona, is that those who make a change of ad­dress with the Ari­zona De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion are not pro­vided with voter regis­tra­tion ser­vices but in­stead told to seek an ad­dress change on their voter reg­is­tra­tions.

The com­plaint also says peo­ple who file for a change of ad­dress on­line with ADOT must take af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion to up­date their voter regis­tra­tion.

“Rather than au­to­mat­i­cally up­dat­ing an ap­pli­cant’s ad­dress for voter regis­tra­tion pur­poses at the same time as the ap­pli­cant’s ad­dress for their driver li­cense is up­dated, all that is pro­vided is an op­por­tu­nity to click a but­ton about voter regis­tra­tion,’’ the com­plaint says. That, in turn, leads them to other pages where they have to fill out an en­tirely new voter regis­tra­tion, some­thing that vi­o­lates the NVRA.

Where the is­sue takes on fis­cal and racial over­tones is in other com­plaints in­volv­ing the De­part­ment of Eco­nomic Se­cu­rity and the Ari­zona Health Care Cost Con­tain­ment Sys­tem, both agen­cies whose du­ties in­clude pro­vid­ing ser­vices to the poor.

The com­plaint charges that both agen­cies are fail­ing to com­ply with re­quire­ments of the NVRA to pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for their clients to regis­ter to vote. That in­cludes a re­quire­ment that they give ap­pli­cants an op­por­tu­nity to regis­ter un­less that per­son de­clines — and does so in writ­ing.

“It ap­pears from our in­ves­ti­ga­tion that DES and AHCCCS are not dis­tribut­ing voter regis­tra­tion ap­pli­ca­tions to clients who leave the voter pref­er­ence ques­tion blank when fill­ing out ini­tial ap­pli­ca­tions, re­newal ap­pli­ca­tions, or change of ad­dress forms,’’ the com­plaint says.

“Leav­ing the ques­tion blank is not equiv­a­lent to de­clin­ing to regis­ter in writ­ing,’’ it con­tin­ues. “This ie es­pe­cially trou­bling with re­spect to change of ad­dress trans­ac­tions given the high like­li­hood that the af­fected client should also have their ad­dress changed for voter regis­tra­tion pur­poses and, with­out the op­por­tu­nity to up­date their regis­tra­tion, will no longer be prop­erly reg­is­tered to vote.’’

Sep­a­rately, the com­plaint says AHCCCS pro­vides no guid­ance for how to of­fer an up­date on voter regis­tra­tion when some­one pro­vides a change of ad­dress to the agency with­out com­ing into the of­fice.

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