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There are too many unnecessary obstacles to voting in Arizona

 

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On Election Day two people close to me were disenfranchised even though they were registered to vote. Why? One is on probation and the other had moved and her voter registration hadn’t kept up with her address.

I ran into other issues this election cycle, too.  A young woman wanted to register but unknowingly missed the deadline; an ASU student’s primary election mail-in ballot was rejected because her signature wasn’t seen as matching the one on file, a 43 year-old man who moved to Oregon 14 years ago was still registered at his parent’s address, and a deceased elderly man was likely sent an early ballot.

wells-dave

Dave Wells

Arizona’s voting system may not be rigged, but it definitely needs fixing.

The family member in his early twenties is on probation for an undesignated low level felony. By state law anyone on probation or still paying fines or restitution for a felony cannot vote.  His probation officer advised him that this act of participating in our representative democracy would constitute a violation of probation and could be used against him.

Probation has made him more accountable and hopefully will help him conform to social norms, especially respecting the law.  If we want young adults to respect the law, we should not be taking away their right to vote on those who make laws. Arizona has more restrictive felony disfranchisement laws than 40 other states, including New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Texas and California.  The only citizens who should have their voting rights temporarily suspended are those incarcerated for felonies.

Arizona also ranks among the states with the highest portion of rejected ballots. In 2012, nearly 46,000, 2 percent of the ballots cast, were rejected.  2016 will likely be similar.

Our voter files include many people with incorrect addresses.  Even the couple who owned my house before me are still registered at my address.  We need to make it a priority to update voter addresses automatically by better integrating databases within the state and across state lines. If you’re employed, the Arizona Department of Revenue knows where you live. If you have a car, Motor Vehicles knows where you live. If you’re enrolled in a government program, the Department of Economic Security knows where you live.  Any updates in your address ought to trigger an automatic update in your voter registration and notification mailing.

Furthermore, if you show up at the polls and have moved, we now have the computer capability to update your address on the spot.  Right now, when you can’t prove the address noted in your voter file, you’re forced to vote a provisional ballot and most of those votes, like my friend’s, are not counted.

The ASU student, who had her primary ballot rejected, was notified only a few hours before the three-day deadline to verify her identify. Legal efforts by the Christine Jones campaign to count her vote failed. Other early voters forget to sign their ballot. While county officials do attempt to contact every voter whose mail-in ballot is rejected, the current process and timetable is inadequate.

If you have a state-issued ID, you have proven you are legally present in Arizona—and the Motor Vehicles Division should have noted whether your proof was citizenship or as a resident alien.

Just as we should update addresses automatically, we should automatically register people to vote when they visit any state office—unless they opt-out.

If you have a state issued ID and have proven you are a U.S. citizen, we should even be able to accommodate same day voter registration at the polls.

While more staff may be necessary at polling places, provisional ballots would drop substantially and voters would face far less confusion and frustration in trying to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

Governor Ducey made a high school civics requirement his top legislative priority, yet as those high school graduates move into adulthood they currently face unnecessary obstacles to exercising their right to vote.

Voting comes with citizenship. Once you’ve proven you’re a citizen, let’s make it simple to vote.

— Dave Wells teaches political science at Arizona State University and can be reached at Dave@MakeDemocracyWork.org or follow @wells4arizona on twitter.

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