It took years for Arizona to recover from right-wing Governor Evan Mecham’s disgraceful act to rescind the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday in 1989.
Now, on the eve of the unveiling of the national memorial to the civil rights leader in Washington, DC, Attorney General Tom Horne has joined a lone county in Alabama to make Arizona the first state to file a suit against the Obama administration to strike down parts of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 — spurred by the horrific violence encountered by King and civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama — as unconstitutional.
“President Lyndon Johnson’s high spirits were marked as he circulated among the many guests whom he had invited to witness an event he confidently felt to be historic, the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act,” King wrote. “The bill that lay on the polished mahogany desk was born in violence in Selma, Alabama, where a stubborn sheriff … had stumbled against the future.”
Claiming that sections of the Voting Rights Act are “either archaic, not based in fact,” Horne has indeed stumbled against his own future and Arizona’s unfinished history of voting rights violations.
Horne, of course, is infamous in Arizona for his controversial witch hunt and eventual ban of bilingual education and the acclaimed Mexican American Studies Program in Tucson. The Attorney General has openly lied in the past about his history of bankruptcy and has the unique distinction of being banned forever from the Securities and Exchanges Commission after he “willfully aided and abetted” securities law violations.
His law suit this week marches in step with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and her Arizona Gone Wild legislature’s obsession to defy federal authority over gun laws, health care, immigration policy, and border security.
US Attorney General Eric Holder immediately responded to Horne’s suit: “The Department of Justice will vigorously defend the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act in this case, as it has done successfully in the past.”
Despite the fact that President George W. Bush signed the Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act in 2006, it clearly rankles Horne to be included as “covered jurisdictions” among Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Virginia and a handful of others states for “preclearance,” which requires Department of Justice approval for any changes in election policy, practices or administrative functions.
Echoing the state’s right mantra of notorious State Senate President Russell Pearce, who is currently embroiled in a recall election, Horne declared in his suit: “The State of Arizona is a sovereign state within the United States of America.”
The Canadian-immigrant Horne, who likes to claim that he attended the historic March on Washington in 1963, could benefit from a conversation with Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) on the deadly violence during the “Bloody Sunday marches” in Selma, Alabama in 1965, which led to the signing of the Voting Rights Act.
Horne could also benefit from a lesson in Arizona voting rights history — and present reality.
In preparation for the reauthorization vote in 2006, an extensive report by Arizona State University researchers on Arizona’s voting rights record from 1982-2006 cited numerous violations and concluded: “Arizona’s record since 1982, when the temporary provisions were last reauthorized, shows that the state still has a long way to go.”
It gets worse.
Last fall, a report by Common Cause ranked Arizona at the bottom of swing states for the worst voting laws. According to Tova Wang, author of the report, the strained atmosphere behind Arizona’s notorious SB 1070 “papers please” immigration law was just the beginning of larger voter irregularities: “One of the biggest concerns in this election, especially in Arizona, is that the ugly immigration debate will be leveraged into the elections and the voting process. We are worried about the use of vote suppression tactics such as challenges at the polls and bogus charges of noncitizen voting being used as a way to impose obstacles to voting that could affect a wide range of voters, but primarily people of color. Just the climate that has been created could have an impact on its own.”
Here are some of the “notable obstacles” to voter participation in Arizona:
Citizens must register to vote a full 29 days prior to the election, which could block some Arizonans from participating.
Restoration of voting rights is only available to individuals with a single felony conviction. Persons with two or more felonies are permanently disenfranchised. Not only is it problematic that many people who have served their time are disenfranchised, but the distinction between single and multiple offenders confuses even election officials, leading to the potential disenfranchisement of people who should have their rights restored.
Arizona is the only state that requires proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. Many citizens are not able to produce such documentary proof.
All voters must present either one form of photo ID or two forms of non-photo ID. If the voter does not have what the poll worker deems the requisite identification, he is forced to cast a provisional ballot. Some voters will not have the necessary ID.
Voters who cast conditional provisional ballots must provide proper identification to the county recorder within three to five business days in order for the ballot to be counted. Provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct will not be counted.
Arizona’s laws regarding challengers at the polling site are lax: voters may be challenged by any qualified elector of the same county and standards for initiating challenge procedures are low.
The absence of specific laws targeting deceptive practices such as dissemination of misinformation about the electoral process leaves voters vulnerable to confusion and disenfranchisement.
Arizona has historically had inadequate outreach to certain language minority communities covered by the Voting Rights Act, and gaps in coverage for qualified and trained bilingual poll workers.