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Advocacy groups’ poll indicates most voters oppose early ballot bill

Ben Giles//April 15, 2013

Advocacy groups’ poll indicates most voters oppose early ballot bill

Ben Giles//April 15, 2013

(Cronkite News Service photo by Cronkite NewsWatch)

Nearly 60 percent of Arizona voters oppose a bill that could stop some voters from automatically receiving early mail-in ballots, according to a poll announced Monday by liberal advocacy groups ONE Arizona and Arizona Working Families.

The autodial poll, which surveyed Arizonans who voted in the 2012 election, found that 59 percent of voters are opposed to Sen. Michele Reagan’s SB1261. The bill aims to purge voters from the state’s permanent early voting list, better known as PEVL, if they don’t cast early ballots.

Of the 600 voters surveyed, only 33 percent said they were in favor of the bill, which Democratic lawmakers and Latino groups are calling for Reagan to scrap this legislative session.

Lobbyist John Loredo said the groups are still working to defeat the bills at the state Capitol, but are meeting with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a national Latino civil rights group, to discuss legal options in the event the bill passes and is signed by Gov. Jan Brewer.

Groups also oppose SB1003, which would make it a felony for certain individuals and organizations to turn in ballots for a voter unless they’re authorized to do so.

“We will defend our community. That’s what we do,” Loredo said at a Monday morning press conference. “These bills, we believe, are a violation of the Voting Rights Act, so we reserve the right on behalf of our community to challenge these bills in court.”
Reagan, R-Scottsdale, has declined to stop the bills, and said groups such as CASE haven’t provided any constructive criticism to the bills.

“Don’t just say, ‘Kill the bill, it’s not right at this time,’” Reagan told the Arizona Capitol Times. “If you have legitimate changes that you’d like to see, let me know.”
The poll, conducted by Democratic polling firm Lake Research Partners, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Opponents of Reagan’s bills stressed that SB1261 would voters of all ethnicities, not just Latinos. In the poll, 81 percent of Democrats said they were registered to vote through PEVL, as did 51 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of independents and other designations.

But Monica Sandschafer, executive director of the Arizona Center for Empowerment, called the legislation “a direct response to the Latino vote.”

“When [SB1261] was first written, it was written retroactive to go back to 2010, when ONE Arizona formed,” Sandschafer said. “It’s when we first started mobilizing voters and we turned out 90,000 low-propensity Latino voters to vote. We signed up 48,000 low-propensity Latino voters on the permanent early voting list. That’s when we started to see an attack on the permanent early voting list, only when we signed up Latinos.”

Groups associated with ONE Arizona said they were furious that Reagan missed a meeting Thursday with Latino get-out-the-vote groups. Reagan had told Senate Minority Leader Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix, that she would miss the meeting, but the message did not make it to the advocacy groups or the Arizona Association of Counties, which is backing SB1261 and attended Thursday’s brief meeting.

“We came together to meet with Sen. Reagan, but she stood us up. She didn’t call, so there was no conversation to be had,” said Brendan Walsh, executive director of CASE. “As a series of organizations, I don’t know that we’ve ever been treated with such disrespect as we have in this process.”

Reagan agreed to several amendments to SB1261 pitched by Democratic lawmakers, but none that change the bill substantially enough to garner Democratic votes, according to several lawmakers.

Nor do the amendments change the minds of Latino groups who want the bill put on a shelf. There’s still plenty of time before the 2014 election to meet with stakeholders and propose legislation that makes elections more efficient without restricting the vote, Loredo said.

“Yes, there were long lines at the polling places last time. But those are nothing more than a bureaucratic response to a problem,” he said. “They’re holding the voter responsible for the problems instead of county election officials actually changing and adapting to a very large increase in voting.”