First, a recently enacted law in Arizona:
In the closing hours of this year’s legislative session, Republican lawmakers pushed through an overhaul of Arizona’s election laws.
It wasn’t an easy lift. Parts of the legislation were contained in separate bills that had stalled earlier in the session before getting folded into House Bill 2305 as adjournment approached. HB 2305 died on the Senate floor on the final night of the session as GOP supporters struggled to round up enough backing to get it across the finish line, but the legislation then came back to life via a reconsideration motion. It passed with the bare minimum 16 votes necessary when Senator Steve Pierce switched from opposing the bill to supporting it after the Prescott Republican was the target of an intense lobbying effort that included a phone call from National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Daniel Scarpinato.
Supporters of the bill say they are just trying to make a few administrative changes to make the voting process more efficient and eliminate the potential for fraud, but critics of the legislation say it’s aimed at suppressing voters—particularly the growing Latino slice of the electorate—and making it more difficult to get an initiative on the ballot.
The changes are drastic enough that a coalition of different groups—including the Arizona Democratic Party, Mi Familia Vota, the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood Arizona, and more than half a dozen union groups—have launched a referendum campaign to try to force a vote on the new law on the November 2014 ballot. The group must collect more than 86,000 valid signatures from voters before Sept. 12 in order to put the measure on hold until voters can decide whether it should stand.
On Tuesday, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett (R) certified that a referendum on the law, known as HB 2305, will be on the ballot in next year’s general election.
HB 2305 passed earlier this year. Considered a voter suppression effort by opponents, the law would raise the bar for third parties getting on the ballot, add obstacles to citizens initiative efforts, and kick voters off that state’s permanent early voting list if they fail to vote in two consecutive elections, among other things. The referendum effort began just days after the law was signed by Gov. Jan Brewer (R) in June.
Robbie Sherwood, a spokesperson for the referendum effort, touted how quickly the signatures had been gathered.
But the fight may not be over. Barrett Marson, a spokesman for two political committees that support the law, told Tucson Weekly that his groups will go to court to try to invalidate some of the signatures collected.
“It’s still early in the process,” Marson said. “There are thousands of signatures gathered by circulators who have questionable backgrounds and residency issues. Actually, let me change the word questionable to felonious.”
These referendums on voting rights are a great idea. It’s an opportunity to put voters on notice that their rights are being narrowed and gives them a chance to do something about it without waiting for lawyers or a court.
This Arizona referendum is limited to election issues, but when we’re passing one petition for signatures we may as well pass two and doing that is a great way to link voting rights to other issues. Combining and connecting the voting rights referendum with something that has broad appeal (like an increase in the minimum wage, just throwing one possibility out there!) would be wonderful, because voting rights and issues that benefit working class people should be a natural fit, but haven’t necessarily been linked in the past. I don’t know if one can do that in Arizona – referendum rules vary from state to state – but if you’re gathering signatures anyway, who not link issues?
I saw this work in Ohio when we passed petitions to repeal Ohio’s union-busting law along with a petition to “stay” a new voter suppression law. People who may had never given a second thought to voting rights (rural white people who have a driver’s license) were all of a sudden enthusiastic about backing voting rights protections. We were able to connect voting rights to their labor issue and remind them that in a state like Ohio they rely on a coalition that includes people who are targeted by suppression efforts, even if they are not targeted.