27 April 2014

We saved hundreds of votes across the state, but there were not enough concentrated in any of the close races to claim that we saved any races. In 2008 we looked at close races to see if Maricopa County's 30,000 uncounted provisional ballots would have made a difference in any of them and we concluded they would not have changed the outcomes of any races.


An interesting issue here in AZ is the high numbers of people disenfranchised because they vote at the wrong polling places. For most of my life I voted in Virginia where public buildings are required to serve as polling places. The local school was always my polling place and I never thought twice about where to vote. Here in AZ there is no such requirement, so the County Elections officials scramble every election to find churches, private businesses, apartment complexes, etc. willing to give up space and have their parking lots over-run with voters on Election Day. In 2008 the poll workers were trained to allow people to vote provisional ballots even if they were at the wrong polling place. That continues to be a big problem. There are other issues around having private entities serve as polling places. In the recent election a real estate office that served as a polling place advertised free snacks for voters. There is an inquiry about whether they violated any laws.


In 2006 I moved a month before the election. I reregistered but never received anything from the county, so I assumed I was still on the rolls at my old precinct. When I checked in there the poll workers said I was not on the rolls. I called County Elections to find out where I was registered. They said they could not tell me, but I could cast a provisional ballot and then call back in a week to see if it counted. I told them I wanted to cast my ballot where it would count. They said they could not help me. My ballot did not count.


In Maricopa County (Phoenix—home to 61% of the state's population) 40% of the polling places move every election!


Poll worker kits include signs, but often they are inadequate or too poorly placed to guide any but the most intrepid voters. When I lived in Cave Creek, 26 miles north of Phoenix, my polling place moved three times. Once it was down a dirt road and it took me a while to believe that the sign was directing me to the right place. Another time the church where I had voted in a previous election was a polling place, but it turned out not to be mine. I had to drive another half mile to get to my polling place. The County Elections people blame the voters for not knowing where their polling place is. But they have been unwilling to work with community organizations to lobby for a law requiring public buildings to serve as polling places. They have also been unwilling to have a group of graphic designers and voters review their printed materials to advise on ways they might improve communicating polling place location.


Adding to the confusion, voter registration cards mailed to newly registered voters list the precinct name, the numbers for congressional and legislative districts and the name of the local school district. The precinct names are NOT polling place names. In fact no where on the voter registration card will you find your polling place because they move so frequently. Voters often go to the school listed on their cards only to learn that it's not a polling place. We have no way of knowing how many voters attempt to vote but are unable to find any polling place on election day.


In the months preceding the 2008 election I learned that the County Elections budget was being cut by $800K. The two items they were cutting were: 1. Sending each voter a sample ballot by name as opposed to generically addressing one sample ballot to "Voting Household." 2. Support for their call center.


In all of our Election Protection work we found that the most popular piece of supplemental ID people brought to the polls was that sample ballot mailed to them by name. (Anything County Elections mails to a voter with their name on it counts as one piece of non-photo ID. We require either one piece of gov't issued photo ID or two pieces of non photo ID.) So I called the County Elections director and told her we were organizing to fight these cuts because the 2008 election would be the first presidential election with the new ID requirements; there would be far more first-time voters than usual; and turnout would be quite high. In fact, we wanted to lobby to increase their budget so they could handle the extra turnout. Up to that call I had a very friendly relationship with the County Elections Director, Karen Osborne. When she heard what I was offering she became very angry and told me I didn't know what I was talking about; every department in the county needed to sacrifice and they were lucky they weren't cut more; people did not use the sample ballots as ID (I don't know how she would know this since she is not at the polls on Election Day.)

When I told her we respectfully disagreed and we intended to lobby for the increase she hung up on me. Then she and the County Recorder took the trouble to go to the Board of Supervisors meeting to testify in favor of having their budget cut! I managed to have an op ed published in the AZ Republic advocating against the cuts. That only further sealed my status as a pariah to the Elections Officials.


Three weeks prior to the election here's the message callers got if they called County Elections for any information: "Due to budget cuts we are unable to answer your call at this time. Please call again later." I was floored. I called a reporter for the AZ Republic and she placed a story on the front page of the local section. The County Elections dept. then began answering their phones again.


I don't think there is willful disenfranchisement of Latinos or Democrats here in the way that William Rehnquist used to champion. But there is willful neglect and mismanagement — the county recorder and elections director have had their jobs since Phoenix was a village—24 years. They are comfortable with a level of dysfunction that would shock most reasonable people. I believe voter registration forms and ballots should be treated the same way banks treat checks. The County Elections officials don't seem to grasp that such high levels of security and chain-of-custody protections are necessary.


The problem with having voting at the polls being such a crap shoot is that higher proportions of Dems vote at the polls than Republicans, and higher proportions of people of color vote at the polls than Anglos. So there is a disparate impact.


I hope that helps.



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Voting rights activist Linda Brown is the former Executive Director of the Arizona Advocacy Network and Foundation where she led election protection programs for the past six years. She formed and co-led the state and national coalition that brought a successful federal court challenge to Arizona's 2004 anti-immigrant measure requiring voters to present documentary proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. She continues to lobby for changes in Arizona election law to fight the routine invalidation of tens of thousands of ballots each election.