Very soon, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide the fate of Arizona elections and, particularly, the independence of people of color’s votes for years to come. A recent Supreme Court hearing to consider legal opinions for and against Arizona’s HB2023 was interesting, as justices appear to be inclined to support the arguments of Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich. At stake is the very integrity of our elections and the security of every American’s sacred right to vote. At issue is the concept of “ballot harvesting,” best described as a frequently and easily manipulated, fraud prone, voter suppression strategy that depends on virtually anonymous, highly aggressive, and unregulated unscrupulous third-party collection of ballots that largely belong to poor voters of color. Many of these patriotic victims are not well acquainted with the “Boss Tweed” or “Tammany Hall” electoral controls – or bullying – that has come to define and has led to the corruption of many urban electorates throughout America.
Thank God, in Arizona at least, we have an attorney general and a civil rights community that coalesced to remain one step ahead of cutthroat political special interests seeking to game our election process. Proponents of “ballot harvesting” argue that keeping other people’s hand on and entrusting submission of the secret ballot of people of color is the only way to make sure their voices are heard in an election. Absolute nonsense. What voter suppression exists in trusting communities of color, who have fought and shed their blood for the unfettered right to vote, to simply place their completed ballots safely back in their own mailbox for proper collection, you know, the same one that the ballots arrived in? The idea that random agents of various political machines have the right to go door to door interrogating voters of color about their political choices, inviting themselves to complete uncompleted ballots, and worst of all collecting and ultimately deciding if the high-jacked votes get counted at all is the very definition of voter suppression. People like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Fannie Lou Hamer, Arizona’s Lincoln Ragsdale and Opal Ellis, and modern day voting rights advocates did and do not risk their lives so that paid operatives are empowered to come along and sabotage or inhibit their children and grandchildren exercising the right to vote.
All over America, wherever “ballot harvesting” has been legalized, elections have been plagued with fraud and deceit. For example, in North Carolina, five white Republicans were indicted on felony charges for illegal ballot collection and conspiracy. This example of “ballot harvesting” resulted in a congressional election having results delayed by months and thousands of people of color being disenfranchised by a small group of people willing to tamper with ballots of people they felt they could manipulate. “Ballot harvesting” is not a Democrat problem or a Republican problem, it is an American problem that, apart from foreign nations interfering in American elections, represents the greatest threat to the integrity of our representative republic. The opponents of free and fair elections have gone from employing poll taxes, to undermining ID requirements at the polls, and have now settled on stealing, sweet talking, or flat-out prying ballots from the hands of voters of color in their unyielding quest to tell voters of color how to and whom for and when to cast their votes.
Arizona’s HB2023 does not suppress anyone’s right to vote. Sons and daughters, grandkids and pastors, caregivers and the like can still stick grandparents’ ballots in the mail. This law does not make it illegal for elections being a family affair, as good civics dictate they should be. What this law does do is keep the sacredness of the right to vote intact by making it a felony for strangers and hired thugs to strong arm, intercept, augment, or discard ballots mailed to communities of color that have struggled for so long and at such great cost to be able to vote in peace and with the same hallowed privacy enjoyed by white Americans since the days of the Pilgrims.
Brnovich is right to seek judicial relief and reconsiderations from the U.S. Supreme Court over the problem of “ballot harvesting”. By doing this, he is protecting historically vulnerable voters and making good on his oath as our state’s top civil rights enforcer to intervene – by any means necessary – to guarantee that the blood of civil rights leaders was not shed in vain in pursuit of one person, one vote. The Voting Rights Act must be strengthened and diligently defended, because the forces of voter suppression do not yield. “Ballot harvesting” is dangerous and we need only look at the problems and injustices it has caused around the country to understand why this sad practice has no place in Arizona and why the U.S. Supreme Court will find that prohibiting implementation is indeed constitutional and in voters’ best interest. As the iconic voting rights hero Rep. John Lewis once said, “The right to vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool or instrument in a democratic society.” As such, ballots should NEVER EVER be trifled with by anyone, at any time, under any circumstances.
The Reverend Jarrett Maupin is a Baptist minister, civil rights activist, and a Democrat.