Friday, March 11, 2016

Republican Lawmakers Make It a Felony for Get-Out-The-Vote Groups To Assist Voters

Posted By on Fri, Mar 11, 2016 at 5:30 PM

click to enlarge State Sen. Steve Farley: "You're taking away one of the tools of being able to speak truth to power." - JIM NINTZEL
  • Jim Nintzel
  • State Sen. Steve Farley: "You're taking away one of the tools of being able to speak truth to power."
You’ll now be committing a crime if you drop off your neighbor’s early ballot at the polling place in this year’s elections.

Gov. Doug Ducey yesterday signed HB 2013, which makes it a felony for a person to turn in a ballot other than their own, with some exceptions for family members or roommates.

Republicans claim they are restoring integrity to election process by preventing “ballot harvesting”—but there’s no evidence that anyone was tampering with any of the ballots that were being collected and turned over to election officials.

State Sen. Steve Farley (D-Tucson) said the legislation was aimed at suppressing the vote among Latinos and other groups who often fail to turn out on Election Day.

“By taking away the practice of going door to door and collecting the ballots of people who might not otherwise be bringing in them in themselves—particularly in disempowered communities where we have been successful in being able to do that—you’re taking away on of the tools of being able to speak truth to power,” Farley said.

The entire controversy over the collection of early ballots is relatively recent.

Way back in the early ’90s, state lawmakers loosened up the early ballot rules. Before the changes, you had to present some kind of valid reason to get a so-called “absentee ballot”—you’d be out of town on Election Day or you were to infirm to make it to the polls or some similar situation. But the changes more than two decades ago allowed anyone to request an early ballot.

In the years since, the use of early ballots has skyrocketed. In 1996, about one in four voters in Pima County cast early ballots. By 2014, that number had grown to more than three out of four.

The increase in the use of early ballots over the decades has been mostly driven by sophisticated candidates and political parties, who have encouraged voters to cast early ballots as a way of developing a connection with voters and tracking their voting behaviors. The reason is simple: If they can get supporters to cast their vote early, then they know they have that supporter locked in.

But it’s also far more convenient for voters, who can review long ballots with multiple races and complex propositions at their own leisure in their living room rather than have to make quick decision while standing at a ballot box.

Both political parties, as well as many individual candidates from both sides of the aisle, have participated in ballot harvesting by collecting early ballots and turning them over to election officials.

But in recent years, Latino groups have started collecting early ballots—and given that Latinos are far more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans, GOP lawmakers have moved to shut them down.

The first effort was in 2014, when lawmakers passed a massive election-law revamp that made it crime to collect early ballots, but also put new hurdles in the path of third-party candidates and initiative campaigns. That legislation was filled elements that upset so many different interest groups that a massive referendum effort succeeded in putting the changes on the ballot for voter approval. Rather than face the voters, GOP lawmakers instead repealed the entire package and have been passing elements of it in a piecemeal fashion.

This week, GOP lawmakers finally managed to pass legislation making it felony to collect early ballots. Supporters of the law say that it will prevent any funny business from happening with ballots that are collected by political organizers, but they have yet to be able to point to any verifiable fraudulent activity.

Farley said he was “outraged” that Ducey signed the bill and “then said that it’s another step toward protecting all our electoral process.”

“It’s another step in his Big Lie theory of governance, which is you do one thing and then you say you’re doing precisely the opposite thing,” Farley said.

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