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Voting Rights Act ruling may free 2 laws from limbo

Two laws that have spent several years in limbo may have new life, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that freed Arizona from a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.

In 2010, the Legislature passed two laws relating to community college districts. One, HB2261, made several changes to the elections and representation of the Maricopa County Community College District governing board. The other, HB2113, allowed provisional community college districts to issue bonds.

Both bills required approval from the U.S. Department of Justice before they could go into effect because Arizona was one of several states governed by Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act.

But the Arizona Attorney General’s Office withdrew its preclearance applications for the bills, which it has done in the past when the Department of Justice has indicated it will reject a piece of legislation. The laws have remained on the books, but were never implemented.

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has lifted the preclearance requirement imposed on Arizona and other states, the laws may go into effect. The Attorney General’s Office, Maricopa County Community College District and others are trying to determine whether the laws can be or must now be enforced.

Attorney General Tom Horne has not yet reached a conclusion on whether the June 25 ruling will allow the two laws to go into effect, spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said. The Maricopa County Community College District, county election officials, provisional community college districts and others are waiting for answers.

HB2261 expanded the Maricopa County Community College District’s five-person governing board, which is elected by district, to include two new at-large members. It also decreased the members’ terms to four years from six years and reduced the number of signatures candidates need to qualify for the ballot.

HB2113 allowed provisional community college districts, which are unaccredited, to issue bonds, among other changes. Had it gone into effect after the 2010 legislative session, it also would have delayed the implementation of the election provisions in HB2261 until July 2012.

Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne said she sees no reason why HB2261 wouldn’t now be the law of the land.

“Logic tells you that it would be,” Osborne said.

Legislative Council believes the legislation is now binding as well.

Osborne said Maricopa County election officials are working with their attorneys and talking with the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office. If the law is now in effect, she said the county will confer with the community college district’s attorneys to determine how to proceed.

Tom Gariepy, a spokesman for Maricopa Community Colleges, said Horne must make the determination on whether the law is now in effect.

“We think this is a matter that really falls to the jurisdiction of the attorney general, who, at the end of the day, is the person whose job it is to defend the constitutionality of state laws,” he said. “We don’t really know … whose place it is to formally ask the attorney general about that. We’re not sure that it’s ours, because we don’t run the elections.”

Grisham did not know why then-Attorney General Terry Goddard withdrew the state’s preclearance application for HB2261. Alan Maguire, a consultant for the Maricopa County Community College District, said DOJ raised concerns about the at-large districts provision in the bill. Such districts have long been a red flag in the eyes of the Voting Rights Act because they tend to reduce minority voting power.

That concern is causing unease among some in Maricopa County, and is illustrative of why Latino activists are upset with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Democrat Ben Miranda, who was elected to the MCCCD board in 2012, said he expects the at-large board members to be white conservatives. Latinos would have less influence on a seven-member board, he said.

Miranda is the only Latino on the board. His district covers the southern and western parts of the county.

Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, noted that Democrats and Latinos are at a general disadvantage in conservative Maricopa County, which, at least in recent memory, has never elected a Latino to a countywide position.

“There’s a prime example of retrogression … where the makeup of the board does not mirror the population of the county,” Gallardo said. “You’re talking about a six-to-one board.”

The new seven-member set-up, if implemented, would be similar to the Phoenix Union High School District’s board, Gallardo said. But the PUSD board represents an area that is more heavily Latino than Maricopa County, and Latinos have found success in getting elected to the at-large seats, he said.

MCCCD Governing Board President Doyle Burke said he prefers the current format, which mirrors the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors’ five districts. Burke said the addition of two at-large members could skew the geographic balance of the board’s representation.

“It might be possible for three of seven board members to live in the East Valley or the West Valley,” he wrote in an email to the Arizona Capitol Times.

Burke said he supported the provision lowering the number of signatures needed by candidates.

HB2113 is less controversial than the other leftover bill. The law primarily deals with provisional community college districts, of which only one, in Gila County, existed at the time the Legislature passed HB2113. Since then, a second was formed in Santa Cruz County.

It was unclear why the AG’s Office withdrew its preclearance application for the law.

Lobbyist Mike Gardner, who represents the Gila County Provisional Community College District, said the district hopes HB2113 will now go into effect. The district asked the Legislature for bonding authority in 2010 because enrollment was growing rapidly and the district needed capital for new buildings.

Gardner said the district has not needed bonding authority during the past few years because enrollment has tapered off since then. But things are picking up, so the Supreme Court’s ruling may have come at just the right time for the provisional district.

The state has withdrawn preclearance applications from two other laws to avoid DOJ rejections in recent years, though neither is on the books anymore.

In 2009, the Attorney General’s Office withdrew part of a bill that required counties with populations of more than 175,000 people to expand their boards of supervisors to five members. The session law that was withdrawn expired before the Supreme Court’s ruling on Section 5.

In 2011, Horne’s office withdrew an application for a bill that would have required people who collect other voters’ early ballots to register with the state. The measure was repealed by the Legislature the following year.

Voting Rights Act ruling means several 2013 bills avoid preclearance process

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling that lifted the requirement that Arizona get preclearance from the Department of Justice for all election and voting law changes will ease the way for at least five pieces of legislation passed in 2013.

One, HB2305, may have had problems getting preclearance. Opponents of the bill, which bars political organizations from collecting ballots and makes it easier for people to be purged from the state’s Permanent Early Voting List, say it’s a textbook example of the type of legislation that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was meant to block. Some of those critics had been hoping that DOJ would reject the bill.

Other bills are less controversial, at least from a civil rights perspective. HB2593 dramatically raises the state’s campaign contribution limits to match the federal limits. Critics have threatened a lawsuit alleging that the bill violates the Voter Protection Act and the Clean Elections Act, both of which were approved by voters in 1998.

HB2157 weakens Arizona’s largely toothless resign-to-run law. Under the new law, elected officials only trigger the resign-to-run law if they file nominating petitions to run for another office.

HB2156 strengthens the prohibitions on political subdivisions of the state, such as cities, counties and school districts, from using government resources to influence the outcomes of elections.

Sen. Kimberly Yee’s SB1454 made a number of changes to the statutes relating to campaign finance and homeowners associations. Among the measure’s many changes is a provision that prohibits Clean Elections candidates from using or purchasing items that bear logos or trademarks of their personal businesses. Another provision specifies that serving on the host committee for a candidate’s fundraiser does not indicate coordination that would bar someone from participating in an independent expenditure for that candidate.

The bill also includes session law allowing cities to lengthen the terms of elected officials in order to comply with a 2012 bill requiring cities to consolidate their elections with the state’s election cycles.

A sixth bill may have been sent to DOJ for preclearance as well, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. HB2389 restricts access to information in public records about the spouses or children of deceased peace officers, as well as former public officials who were victims of violent crimes. The bill didn’t alter any election or voting laws in the state, but it made a minor change to Arizona’s election statutes by limiting access to information in an individual’s voter registration records.

When the Supreme Court handed down its ruling on June 25, the Citizens Clean Elections Commission was still awaiting preclearance on a handful of administrative rule changes. Interim Executive Director Daniel Ruiz said the changes impose stricter timelines on Clean Elections candidates’ ability to seek reimbursement for campaign-related personal expenditures; shorten the time in which publicly funded candidates are required to attend a Clean Elections training class; increase the penalty for Clean Elections violations to $1,000 from $500; and increase the number of $5 contributions needed for legislative candidates to qualify for Clean Elections funding to 250 from 220.

The CCEC was also preparing to submit another administrative rule change that no longer needs preclearance. The change shortens the timeframe in which candidates could seek reimbursement for campaign-related mileage.

 

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