Nonprofit Sues Arizona for Voting Records

           PHOENIX (CN) — Arizona asked a nonprofit watchdog for $50,000 for election registration records, but provides the information to political parties for free, Project Vote claims in court.
     Project Vote, a nonpartisan nonprofit advocate for voter registration, claims the state violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
     It sued Secretary of State Michele Reagan, Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell and Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez on April 27 in Federal Court.
     Purcell’s office has been lambasted since many Maricopa County voters had to wait five hours in line to vote in the state’s March 22 Presidential Preference Election.
     Maricopa County — home to the state capital, Phoenix — has reduced the number of its polling places from 403 in 2008 to 211 in 2012, to 60 in this year’s March primary. That equated to 21,000 voters per polling place this year in Maricopa, the state’s most populous and most densely populated count.
     The Democratic National Committee called it “a reduction of voting sites of shocking magnitude,” in its April 15 lawsuit against Reagan, Purcell and Maricopa County. The DNC claimed that the reduced number of voting sites disenfranchised minority voters.
     In the new lawsuit, Project Vote says the fees Arizona charges it and similar organizations are unjustified and limit “the ability of private citizens and associations to monitor the activities of state election officials.”
     Yet Arizona law provides political parties free access to voter registration records.
     Project Vote wants to see the elections records to investigate whether “underrepresented constituencies are properly added to, and not improperly removed from, the voter rolls.”
     The National Voter Registration Act requires states to do that “for the purpose of ensuring the accuracy and currency of official lists of eligible voters,” according to the complaint.
     However, “”(N)ot all states comply, and many states get around the issue by charging prohibitively expensive fees to anyone wanting to review the voting lists or registration records,” Project Vote elections counsel Michelle Kanter Cohen wrote in a blog post about the lawsuit. “Arizona is one of these states, having made it all but impossible for watchdog groups like Project Vote to monitor the integrity of Arizona’s voter rolls.”
     The lawsuit cites a number of records requests that Project Vote says the Secretary of State’s Office responded to unreasonably.
     On Nov. 30, 2012, it asked Maricopa County for an electronic copy of the voter list, data on early voting, absentee ballots, and processing of the ballots. A month later, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office said the records were available from the county Recorder’s Office — for about $50,000.
     Project Vote asked Pima County (Tucson) for electronic records on Feb. 3, 2014, and a list of voters removed from the county rolls in December 2012 and December 2013.
     The Pima County Recorder’s Office said it would cost $50 per hour, and then some, to produce the records.
     And when Project Vote asked Secretary Reagan’s office for voter list maintenance records in August 2014, Reagan said she did not have the information, “despite the fact that the NVRA requires Arizona to maintain these records and make them available for inspection at no cost or photocopy the records at a reasonable cost,” the complaint states.
     When Project Vote told Reagan in February 2015 that she was violating the Voting Rights Act, Assistant Attorney General Jim Driscoll-MacEachron told it to submit a list of records to be gathered.
     An attorney for the group visited the Secretary of State’s office in November to see the records, but was only “permitted to verbally request certain electronic searches that were entered by one of the secretary’s agents and to view some, but not all, of the results, which appeared six rows at a time on the computer screen.”
     The attorney had to “transcribe limited data by hand, effectively precluding Project Vote from meaningfully inspecting the records in order to verify the accuracy of the election records or the propriety of the practices yielding such records, a violation of the National Voter Registration Act.”
     A spokesman for Reagan declined to comment, but said her election team is reviewing the lawsuit.
     Project Vote seeks declaratory judgment that Arizona must make its voter registration records publicly available, and copies available at a reasonable price.
     It is represented by Cynthia Rickets with Sacks, Ricketts & Case.

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