Something insidious is happening in the Arizona Legislature. After an election that saw a record high turnout, exemplary election administration in Arizona, and no instances of voter or election fraud, Republican legislators would like to change the election laws. These changes would not increase funding for local officials or provide assistance to those with disabilities in Arizona. No, coincidentally these changes would simply just make it harder for Arizonans to cast their ballots.
During the first legislative session of 2021, Republican legislators introduced multiple bills that would place unnecessary restrictions on voters. There are bills requiring that voters get their mail ballots notarized, something that has never occurred in Arizona before. Another bill wants to kick voters off of the permanent voting list. The most disgusting among the proposals is that the Legislature has the ability to overturn the popular vote of Arizonans if they want, with no justification. Many of these bills have been proposed under the guise of “voter fraud.” This justification is blatantly wrong.Time and time again during the 2020 election, those instigating and perpetuating myths of vote fraud were routinely disproven. When Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward challenged Joe Biden’s victory in Arizona, the Arizona Supreme Court found that she failed to present “any evidence of misconduct, illegal votes,” or “establish any degree of fraud or sufficient error rate that would undermine the certainty of the election results.” Indeed, none of the allegations of voter fraud made by those in Arizona have had any evidence or been substantiated. These serious allegations cannot just be thrown around.
Even though every time someone has alleged voter fraud they have been unable to show any evidence in a court of law of widespread fraud, Republican legislators charge on, using voter fraud or election integrity as a justification to pass cumbersome laws meant to suppress voting. The fallacy of voter fraud goes hand in hand with voter suppression. Extensive research reveals that voter fraud is rare. Nonetheless, even if voter fraud claims are false, the allegation is already out into the world. No amount of correcting can reverse the damage – those lies will persist. Aggravatingly, these legislators are using the lie that they are perpetuating, that they know is untrue based on the Arizona Supreme Court’s findings, to continue to try to pass bad laws. As such, the integrity of elections is now repeatedly questioned as a means to obtain political power and institute even more oppressive and discriminatory voting bill proposals.
What is so outrageous about any of these proposals is that these legislators will be harming not only people they think don’t vote for them, but also their own voters. Arizona instituted no-excuse mail voting in 1991 and expanded mail voting in 1997 and 2007. In 2018, 79% of Arizona voters used a mail ballot. In the 2020 primary election, about 88% of Arizonans voted by mail. It is clear that no-excuse mail ballots that require signature matching in Arizona works. Almost all Arizonans utilize this system to vote. Arizonans right now understand the system. It is clear that Arizonan voters don’t believe that there should be a change. The root of the problem with these possible election laws is that politicians are not only trying to hand pick their voters, but if they don’t like the results of an election, keep themselves in power by overturning the will of the people of this state.
There is a proverbial saying – “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Arizona’s election system is not broken. It does not need these convoluted and complicated “fixes,” which are just attempts to make voting harder. During the pandemic, our voting system has been a source of pride and example for other states to use to expand voting in their states. Our voting system not only keeps people safe from public health emergencies because it is accessible, but enables all Arizonans who are eligible to vote with the ability to cast a ballot. These voting proposals are betrayals of Arizonan values, American values, and cannot be enacted.
Sonni Waknin is the managing attorney and voting rights counsel at the UCLA Voting Rights Project and lives in Prescott with her family.