The stakes for the upcoming election have never been higher in Arizona. Tensions are mounting and our democracy is essentially at a crossroads. Voters will decide on November 8 which direction our country and our state should go. That’s why it’s truly unfathomable that, instead of working hard all year to ensure that our elections are accessible and voters enjoy every opportunity to exercise their right to vote, our Legislature actually passed a law that makes voting more difficult. HB2023, Arizona’s new “ballot harvesting law” is difficult and expensive to enforce, and disproportionally affects minorities. This new law doesn’t even address fraud, a problem that its sponsor, Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, noted in committee, is covered by previous legislation.
Many of us, like me, work full time with young kids. When a volunteer from a congressional campaign offered to deliver my ballot for me in the 2012 election, I was relieved. I tracked my ballot online to make sure it was delivered and that no fraud occurred. I checked and my vote was counted. Playing out this same scenario in the current election, that volunteer vote carrier could be charged with a class 6 felony, fined up to $150,000 and possibly spend a year in prison. Preventing vote fraud can’t be the answer because, as Rep. Ugenti-Rita asserts, we already have laws on the books to prevent this.
For years, organizations and campaigns across the state have sent volunteers to deliver ballots for voters, especially voters deemed the “Rising American Electorate,” which includes minorities, single women, and millennials. These are voters who don’t always vote, or who wait too long to send in their ballots. Some can’t make it to the polls on Election Day. These voters are usually happy to have someone come to their door and hand-deliver their ballot for them. Why shouldn’t a friend or volunteer be allowed to do this?
The practice of delivering ballots for voters has been deemed “ballot harvesting” by those opposed to it. Why isn’t gathering ballots considered a good thing, a service that brings more votes in? Shouldn’t we be working to get every vote?
The Democratic Party sued to prevent this law from taking effect pending further proceedings. The court refused, citing lack of “quantitative or statistical evidence comparing the proportion of minority versus white voters who rely on others to collect their early ballots.” This effectively sets an impossible standard to prove that discrimination occurred in passing HB2023. This decision, I believe, misses a larger point. This law is designed to reduce access to the vote, and thus discriminates against anyone who needs a hand in getting their ballot to the polls, including young moms like me, new voters, the elderly, rural voters, and others.
I am glad that the plaintiffs have appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and there is still a chance that this law could be suspended for the general election. I hope that the Court of Appeals will reach the deeper issue at stake, unjustifiable barriers to access the right to vote.
This unfair law will be impossible to implement fairly. Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell has said that she cannot effectively enforce it. The law exempts family and household members, and care givers from prosecution, so poll workers would have to ascertain whether the person delivering the vote is exempt or criminally liable. Consider my case of dropping off my mother’s ballot. My last name is different from my parents, so would I have to bring my birth certificate to prove that I am a family member, not a felon? This job of checking family records will require additional poll workers and would cause congestion and longer wait times at the polls. Do you really want your tax dollars going to that?
The Republican Party claims to have trained its poll observers to look out for ballot harvesting. Will they demand identification if anyone attempts to deliver a ballot? Will I be required to prove that I am indeed my mother’s daughter if I deliver her ballot? How will this be done? Poll observers are not allowed to talk to voters. Nor do they have power to arrest or detain people. But the risk of intimidation by party representatives attempting to catch ballot gatherers is real, and very worrisome. The confusion will create another barrier to everyone attempting to exercise their right to vote at the polls.
This election is anything, but normal. Every eligible voter needs to vote and every vote must be counted. The system must be perceived as fair and efficient. HB2023 throws an unnecessary, undesirable, monkey wrench into a delicately balanced election system that must inspire our confidence. It’s a bad law that should be rejected by the courts, and by Arizona voters.
Samantha Pstross is director of the Arizona Advocacy Network.