Arizona Could Illegally Disenfranchise 500,000 or More Voters

The state of Arizona is violating the National Voter Registration Act, putting more than 500,000 voters at risk of being disenfranchised. The ACLU has repeatedly warned Arizona that it is violating the law, and yet it has failed to take the necessary steps to protect voters.

This weekend, we filed a federal lawsuit against Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan, nine months after first notifying her office of significant federal voting rights violations. The lawsuit asks the court to order Arizona to keep voters’ registration addresses up to date. To ensure that affected voters’ ballots count in the 2018 general election, we are also asking the court to instruct the secretary of state to count provisional ballots cast by affected voters and to send a mailing to all affected voters informing them of how to correct their registration address and locate polling location. The secretary of state has indicated that more than half a million of voters could require their addresses to be updated. 

Under the National Voter Registration Act, the federal government requires states to offer people the opportunity to register to vote in a wide range of settings. One of these requirements is that any time voters update their address through a motor vehicle agency, their voter registration address must also be simultaneously updated, unless they opt out. 

Arizona, however, is not making this simultaneous update, meaning that thousands of voters must either take the additional step of updating their own voter registration address or risk disenfranchisement.  The consequences could be especially dire given that almost 70 percent of Arizonans changed their residential address between 2000 and 2010, the second highest rate of any state. 

The state’s failure to update addresses could set off a chain of events for voters that lead to disenfranchisement. When someone moves, they are required to vote in the polling location for their new address. But Arizona voters whose registration address has not been updated by the secretary of state will not receive mailers that help them identify their new polling location.

As a result, many of these voters understandably return to their old polling location. Poll workers are supposed to instruct these voters to go to the polling location for their new address. But in many instances this does not happen or the voter is not able to get to the new location before the polls close. These voters don’t even have an option to cast a provisional ballot that will be counted, as Arizona state law doesn’t allow for them in that specific circumstance. Arizona consistently is at or near the top of the list of states that collect and reject the largest number of provisional ballots each election.  In the 2008 election, 14,885 out of precinct ballots were not counted, constituting 0.6 percent of total ballots cast. In the 2012 election, 10,979 ballots were cast out of precinct and thus not counted, which constituted 0.5 percent of all ballots cast.

For voters who opt to receive their ballot via mail, the consequences of the secretary of state’s failure to update their address are also severe. In 2016, approximately 75 percent of votes cast in Arizona were ballots received by mail. If someone who votes by mail moves and their registration address is not updated, they will not receive their ballot. Many voters don’t realize their ballot hasn’t arrived until it is too late to request that one be sent to their new address. Voters who do not receive their mail ballot and are unable to vote in person due to disabilities, employment schedules, transportation challenges, or caregiving responsibilities are disenfranchised.

Arizona needs to fix this problem before it’s too late. The right to vote for hundreds of thousands of people hangs in the balance.

This case is being brought by the ACLU, the ACLU of Arizona, Demos, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Arizona, Mi Famila Vota and Promise Arizona.

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Anonymous

I’m an Arizona resident and I check my records before each election to ensure the state hasn’t done something wonky. I also follow up with the status of my vote. I wish I could trust my state government to do their job and not have to go through this every election. I am adamant that my vote be counted so until Arizona gets their act together I will continue to go the extra step to protect my vote.

Anonymous

Good ideas and actions.

Jean Kraemer

This happened to me when I had to get new drivers license for my 65th Birthday. I was registered to vote and they assured me I was still registered. I checked my registration the end of July for upcoming election and I was not registered. Pissed me off. I re-registered and received my early ballot. I also called and complained but it did no good. Thanks for bringing this to light!

Anonymous

Is it not on the voter to update their address with the State? Seems like if I move I update the address on my Driver's License and voter registration at the same time. Never had any issues with correct voter location in AZ.

Anonymous

According to the Voting Rights Act, it is the responsibility of the state to update the records, when an address is changed with the motor vehicle division.

Anonymous

The ACLU team needs to put the gaining the '32 Full Voting Rights for Arizona's voters for all elections (fed, state, county, local) on the top of their action list. Thanks and Good Luck, Frank Henry Full Voting Rights Advocate Cottonwood, Arizona

Anonymous

I changed addresses updated my voter registration no problem

Anonymous Anton

You can simply go to serviceaz.com and update your voter registration address. Took about 2 minutes.

Norma Wright

What can I do to help?

Anonymous

This happened to me- i was registered to vote, received my mail in ballot for previous election, voted,- changed my permanent address a year later, filled out change of address with post office and adot,- got worried when ballot sluggish to come to me and called pima county recorder's office- my registration had been inactivated, their words, and so i followed directions to update my address and status- still nothing- so yesterday i went to downtown office. Despite having called previously and followed directions, i was still listed as inactive! Updated info in person and voted at same time- so my ballot got into the box- now for the next hurdle of ballots actually gatting counted!
It would be interesting to do a study on who gets inactivated- is there a demographic involved?

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