TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – Arizona’s secretary of state is systematically disenfranchising thousands of primarily low-income Hispanic voters by not using state driver’s license records to update voter registration rolls, according to a federal lawsuit filed Monday by three nonprofits.
The groups warned the state in a November 2017 letter that the lawsuit could follow, and Secretary Michelle Reagan agreed in a June memorandum to start updating the registration records. That hasn’t happened, according to the lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, and Promise Arizona.
“Secretary Reagan apparently has no difficulty using (Arizona Department of Transportation) records to keep people off the voter rolls when they haven’t provided documentary proof of citizenship,” said Stuart Naifeh, senior counsel at Demos, who along with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is representing the nonprofits.
“The secretary of state should use that same information to keep lawfully registered voters from falling off the rolls when they move, as the law demands,” Naifeh said.
In Arizona, proof of citizenship is required to vote. Having a driver’s license would normally take care of this, because the National Voter Registration Act requires states to use driver’s license information to update voter rolls, and you have to show proof of citizenship to get a driver’s license.
If a voter’s address doesn’t match the registration information, which happens frequently when voters move, the entire ballot is thrown out, even though proof of citizenship is not required for federal elections that might appear on the ballot.
The problem is widespread, because between 2000 and 2010, 70 percent of Arizonans moved. More than 900,000 moved in 2016 alone and more than 14,000 qualified voters were rejected because of incorrect addresses, according to the lawsuit.
The groups signaled the lawsuit in a 15-page letter in November 2017, a required precursor under the National Voter Registration Act.
They cited an ACLU analysis of voter registration and public assistance data, policies, practices and interviews with public assistance employees and recipients that showed that state agencies are violating the Voter Registration Act by not providing information or not updating records.
“It has been nearly 10 months since we sent a notice letter to Secretary Reagan, notifying her office of numerous NVRA violations,” Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona said in a statement.
“Secretary Reagan’s failure to remediate the ongoing violations demonstrates that she is unwilling to take action to protect the right to vote in upcoming elections,” Falcon said. “Problems with voter registration are a primary reason that people are unable to vote.”
The groups are asking the court to order Reagan to count the federal election votes cast by the impacted registered voters, regardless of where they cast ballots, and to notify impacted registered voters of the problem and options for correcting their voter registration addresses.
“The secretary of state should aim to make voting more inclusive and accessible for all, and should never be dismissive of calls to protect the right to vote,” Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota said in a news release.
“Our community is eager to participate in elections and, because of Secretary Reagan’s actions, they now have to seek out voter registration materials and opportunities to make sure their voices are being counted, when those resources should have been provided by the Secretary of State,” Monterroso said.
The Secretary of State’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.