Barry Hess, the longtime vice-chair and voice of Arizona’s Libertarian Party, summed up the Protect Your Right to Vote effort best when he stepped up to the makeshift podium inside the Executive Tower lobby on Wednesday (Sept. 11) afternoon.
Hess gazed out over the assembled throng of media members and more than 150 revved-up volunteers that included nonprofit civic engagement groups, animal welfare advocates, conservationists, Latinos, Libertarians, liberals, libertines, librarians, you name it — incumbent Republican politicians not withstanding — they were there. Hess took dead aim at the politicians in the Legislature who drafted and wrote Arizona’s latest broadside attack on voters, also known as House Bill 2305.
“This is the most diverse political coalition that Arizona has ever seen,” Hess said. “The Republicans in the Legislature have managed to do what nobody thought could be done. They have brought together every other political group in the state against them.”
It was an honor to stand next to Barry, a man I respect but rarely agree with on policy matters, to talk about our mutual opposition to HB2305. This bill, passed in the last hours of the legislative session with virtually no public input, was a blatant power grab by incumbent career politicians who are nervous and threatened by Arizona’s increasingly moderate electorate. Arizona’s Latino and youth populations are growing rapidly. But rather than listen to and engage these emerging new voters, the politicians instead chose to hit the proverbial snooze alarm to buy themselves a little more time in power.
Why change, they must have thought, when it’s so much easier to eliminate the competition by making it more difficult for thousands of Arizonans to vote?
It’s not going to work. It appears voters will have their say after all. The Protect Your Right to Vote Committee needed to file 86,409 valid signatures of registered voters to refer HB2305 to the November 2014 ballot. On Wednesday we filed 146,000.
We fully expect to withstand any legal challenges from people out to silence the will of the voters. And we know we will far surpass the minimum number of valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
As our hundreds of volunteers spoke to voters throughout the state, it was inspiring to see how enthusiastically Arizonans understood and responded to this issue. Arizona voters know:
• It is self-serving and just plain wrong for extremist career politicians to try and influence elections by putting up roadblocks for voters who might not agree with them.
• It is wrong to make criminals out of dedicated campaign volunteers who are helping elderly, homebound and economically disadvantaged people exercise their right to vote.
• It is wrong to keep third party candidates off the ballot by raising their signature requirements to qualify (4,000 percent for Libertarians).
• It is wrong for government bureaucrats to kick people off the Permanent Early Voter List if they don’t vote in two straight elections. These will be newly registered, disproportionately Latino and young voters who will very likely not vote again if they are taken off the mail-in ballot rolls.
• It is wrong to make it nearly impossible to start citizen initiatives. Arizona is a proud initiative state with the right to veto our Legislature written into our Constitution, and used wisely many times in our history.
This extraordinary effort sends a strong message to Sen. Michele Reagan, Rep. J.D. Mesnard and other career politicians who supported HB2305: You don’t get to pick the voters you represent. The right to vote is sacred, and Arizonans fundamentally believe that it should be fair, free and accessible. And Arizonans have had our fill of career politicians throwing down roadblocks just to win elections.
This unprecedented attack on voters has resulted in an unprecedented response. The right to vote is worthy of such an effort.
Volunteers from nearly 30 nonprofit civic engagement organizations gathered signatures in the heat of an Arizona summer and in the face of blocking efforts. We found Arizonans in droves who were enthusiastically willing to stand up for voting rights. They came from all over the state, from all backgrounds and all political stripes (former Sen. Ron Gould, one of the most conservative members to ever serve in the Arizona Legislature, signed our petition!). The majority of the signatures were obtained from Republicans, independents, Libertarians and Greens.
This is great news for the state of Arizona and very bad news for the authors and supporters of HB2305. We look forward to continuing our conversation with Arizona’s voters about their rights, and we are confident they will overturn HB2305 in November 2014.
— Julie Erfle, chairwoman, Protect Your Right to Vote Committee.