The justices are still considering a case that could potentially invalidate a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, but Arizona Republicans are already pushing legislation that’s unlikely to survive contact with the landmark voting rights law if it is not struck down by the Court.
The Arizona Senate recently passed a bill which makes it a felony for anyone working or volunteering on behalf of a political committee or other organization to deliver mailed ballots to a polling place — a bill which could significantly undermine voter turnout efforts in Latino communities. Arizona is one of nine states that must, because of the Voting Rights Act, submit any new voting law to the Justice Department or a federal court to ensure that the law “neither has the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color.”
In 2011, Latino voter turnout jumped nearly 500 percent in one district in Phoenix, Arizona. That same year, Russell Pearce, the former state senate president behind Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070, was recalled from office. In both cases, a major driving force was grassroots volunteers — often high school students — who provided full-service voter turnout operations in Latino communities. These grassroots campaigns would identify voters who received mail in ballots but had not yet returned them, encourage the voter to fill out the ballot, and offer to return it to the polling place in order to make it as easy as possible for the voter to vote. Last year, the Campaign for Arizona’s Future, used this technique to turnout voters opposed to anti-immigrant Sheriff Joe Arpaio last year. They claim to have turned in nearly 1400 votes using the method that Arizona Republicans now want to criminalize.
So, while there’s nothing inherently racist about regulating how ballots are cast, the bill that recently passed the Arizona senate targets a method of voting that is likely to be unusually common among Latino voters. In other words, the law likely has the “effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color,” and thus is unlikely to survive review under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act — unless, of course, the Supreme Court strikes down Section 5.
Seemingly-neutral laws that have a disproportionate impact on minority voters are a common tactic by Republican lawmakers. Voter ID laws, restrictions on registration drives and attacks on early voting all have the effect of making minority voters less likely to vote. As President Lyndon Johnson explained when he originally proposed the Voting Rights Act, “every device of which human ingenuity is capable” will be used by politicians eager to keep certain voters from casting a ballot.