Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy. Why do some legislators want it to be harder to vote?

Photo by Kelley Minars | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

At the rim of the Grand Canyon, a poll worker bends down and ties his boots. He’s got a 3.5-mile hike ahead of him – followed by 12 hours of poll monitoring on the Havasupai Indian Reservation and a 3.5-mile hike back. Many miles above, astronauts in the International Space Station download their encrypted ballots from a specialized platform. Floating weightless, they fill them out online, listing “low earth orbit” as their home address. It’s Election Day, and all over the country, people are casting their ballots, based on a principle as simple as it is radical: no matter who you are or where you live, if you’re eligible, you have the right to vote.

As legislators, we hold this principle sacred. Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy, a hallowed right and responsibility that many have died to protect. Nothing could be more important than protecting the ability of the people to choose our own leaders and speak out on the decisions that affect our lives.

That’s why we’ve recently introduced legislation to enshrine voters’ rights into law. Right now, the Arizona Constitution does not actually specify that citizens have the right to vote. We’ve introduced legislation to change that. We’re also aiming to establish an Arizona Voters Bill of Rights, giving all voters confidence that they will be able to register to vote without unnecessary barriers, participate in fair elections, enjoy equal access to the ballot, elect leaders who will work in their best interest, and enact and propose laws when politicians fail to act.

Many of our colleagues share our passion for democracy. Legislators like Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, Rep. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, and others have introduced specific measures to encourage more eligible voters to participate in our democracy. With automatic voter registration, for instance, going to the DMV to renew your driver’s license would mean automatically being registered to vote, unless you choose to opt out – making our elections more accessible and more secure.

Unfortunately, not every lawmaker shares our point of view. Several of our fellow legislators have reacted to last year’s record-breaking voter turnout by filing anti-democracy bills that would make our elections less secure, more inefficient, and less accessible.

A bill introduced by Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita, Senate Bill 1046, would ban people who vote by mail from dropping off their ballots at polling places. Nearly a quarter-million Arizonans voted this way last November, including Cindy McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey and Attorney General Mark Brnovich, not to mention 12,000 voters in Ugenti-Rita’s own district. This bill appears to be defeated, but we’ll remain vigilant until the session ends.  

Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, has also introduced Senate Bill 1188, a bill that would purge Arizona voters from the Permanent Early Voter List (PEVL) and stop automatically mailing them their early ballots if they don’t vote in two consecutive elections. In short, it would take the ‘permanent’ out of the Permanent Early Voter List. When this bill was heard in committee, Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Green Valley, asked Ugenti-Rita if she knew how many people this bill would affect. Her answer? “I don’t know.”

Ugenti-Rita has also introduced bills that would replace the existing voter ID requirement for in-person early voting with an older, less secure method of proving identity (Senate Bill 1072) and a bill to limit the use of emergency voting for people who can’t vote on Election Day (Senate Bill 1090). All of these bills would take us in the wrong direction. And all three bills were recently approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote.

In the House, Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, also the Chair of the Elections Committee, has introduced an extreme bill that would make it a crime for anyone to register people to vote as part of their job. Countless people across Arizona, from librarians to health workers, currently register people to vote as a piece of their overall work in the community. Why would we want to purposely limit participation in our democracy by making it a crime to get people civically engaged?

Arizona saw record-breaking voter turnout, including youth turnout, across the state in 2018. Instead of reacting by limiting voters’ options, lawmakers should be celebrating and taking positive steps to encourage even more participation and and make voting even more secure and efficient.

In 2020, Arizonans will go to the polls to elect a U.S. President, a U.S. Senator, members of Congress, state senators, state representatives, and hundreds of local officials. Everyone will choose their own way to participate in this civic ritual. Our job as lawmakers should be to give voters as many options as possible, and to ensure that every vote counts – whether it’s cast in Greer or Gilbert, Phoenix or Prescott, deep in the Grand Canyon or high in the skies above.

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Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe
Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe

Rep. Athena Salman is the House Democratic Co-Whip, ranking member on the House Elections Committee and representative for District 26.

Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix
Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix

Rep. Reginald Bolding is the State House Democratic Minority Leader and has represented Legislative District 27 since 2015. He previously served as House Democratic Co-Whip, and is also the founder of the Arizona Coalition for Change.