Court Decision to Gut Voting Rights Act at Odds with Recent Rulings in Arizona

Court Decision to Gut Voting Rights Act at Odds with Recent Rulings in Arizona

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PHOENIX –The Supreme Court dealt a blow to the Voting Rights Act on Tuesday, only two weeks after ruling that an Arizona law requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote is unconstitutional. The Court’s decision on Tuesday and the idea underpinning it – that voter suppression of ethnic minority and poor voters is no longer an issue that warrants the same federal protections as it once did – sits at odds with their ruling on the Arizona voter ID law, which was a clear acknowledgment that state laws can, at times, be discriminatory.

“Arizona is the poster child of the need for federal oversight,” said Democratic Senator Steve Gallardo.

In a 5 to 4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court did away with Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) that required Arizona and other states to get pre-approval from the federal government before implementing changes to their state voter laws.

The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to protect the civil rights of minorities to vote, and was renewed as recently as 2006, when Congress extended the law for another 25 years.

Without the review formula required under Section 4, new laws like HB 2305 would be able to go into effect immediately, said Raquel Teran, state director for Mi Familia Vota, a national organization focused on Latino participation in the election process.

HB 2305 could have a detrimental effect on the work of organizations like hers in helping voters deliver early ballots to the polls, said Teran.

The new legislation, signed into law by Republican Governor Jan Brewer, makes it a misdemeanor for organizations like Mi Familia Vota to deliver ballots. It also requires the County Recorder to eliminate someone from the Permanent Early Voter List (PEVL) if they don’t participate in primary general elections for two consecutive years. Groups like Mi Familia Vota, Promesa Arizona and the Unite Here union have relied on the vote by mail system to get more Latinos to participate in the electoral process, especially in the past election.

Because the Supreme Court decision only affected the Section 4 “formula” of the Voting Rights Act, many voting rights advocates are now pressuring Congress to craft legislation to repair what was struck down by the High Court.

“The formula needs to be changed immediately,” said Mary Rose Wilcox, currently a member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and the first Latina to be elected to that post.

Wilcox said that while the shape in which minorities experience discrimination has changed, it’s still a prevalent issue for Latino voters in Arizona.

Proposition 200, a state law passed by Arizona voters in 2004, made it a requirement for people to present identification at the polls in order to vote, and also made it mandatory to provide proof of citizenship to register. The later was declared unconstitutional in a 7-2 U.S. Supreme Court ruling last June 17.

That provision received pre-approval by the Justice Department as required under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, but was challenged by civil rights groups in a lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court.


Senator Gallardo believes the formula used in Section 4 served as a safeguard from Arizona and other states named under Section 5 from enacting measures that suppress ethnic minority voters.

Gallardo used as an example SB 1412, a law that in 2011 made it a felony for a person to deliver more than ten early ballots to a polling place. That bill, also signed into law by Gov. Brewer, was never implemented because the state realized it had little chance of passing through the Voting Rights Act pre-approval process. Ultimately, state lawmakers decided to withdraw the bill from consideration.

Not everyone in Arizona criticized the Supreme Court’s Tuesday ruling.

Governor Brewer said the it “provides relief for the State of Arizona.”

“Even if Congress enacts a new statute, it is unlikely Arizona would be mandated to continue to seek federal approval for even the most routine changes to our election procedures,” she said in a statement.