Voting Rights at the Crosshairs

By Donna Y. Cheung  |  

October 25, 2022

Voting rightSince the 2020 Presidential election, we, the people, have been inundated with a new set of vocabulary words that includes election denier, voter fraud, alternate electors and illegitimate this and that. These words, their underlayment of distrust and eager promoters have congealed into an industry of persuasion – an industry that aims to convince us that our election system is broken and therefore, the results of elections are suspect. Now, if these assumptions are true, then all election results should be illegitimate. However, these agents of distrust only question the results when their candidates lose. In as such, the effort of persuasion is not about election integrity. Instead, it’s a pretext – a fabricated reason – to make voting more difficult. And Arizona is no exception.

In the past two sessions, the majority party in the Arizona legislature has successfully passed laws that circumscribe voting access and erode the sanctity of a person’s vote. Most notable is the elimination of the permanent early voting by mail list (PEVL) – a system once acclaimed for expanding voter access, especially, for accommodating the needs of senior citizens. With this elimination, voters run the risk of being removed from the list if they do not vote by mail in two successive election cycles. In other words, a voter must participate in one election by mail every four years. Therefore, in order to avoid being removed from the list, a voter would have to remain vigilant about participating in all types of elections, including general, primary and municipal. This change in law creates more obstacles and confusion in voting. For example, voters who are registered independents (unaffiliated) might inadvertently skip a cycle if they forego a primary election. Similarly, voters who neglected to vote in a school budget override election might run the risk of being removed from the voting list. Likewise, a voter who casts a ballot in person faces the same risk. In the end, the long-term effect of this new requirement is to reduce the number of potential participants in the voting process. The purging of voters from the vote by mail list will begin in 2024 – just in time for the next U.S. Presidential election.

In the 2022 session of the Arizona Legislature, the anti-voter sentiment took a sinister turn with the passage of

HB 2243. This new law empowers county recorders to remove the voter registration of anyone whose U.S. citizenship is called into question by the vague concept of “reasonable suspicion.”

No procedures are established to define this attribution. The targeted person would have 35 days to submit proof of citizenship. If no action is taken, then the name of the person is referred to the Arizona Attorney General and the county attorney general for investigation. Given the similarity between this law and the tone of SB 1070, the anti-immigrant, “show me your papers,” law, it’s clear that voters with specific attributes will be targeted – people of color, naturalized U.S. citizens, people born outside of the U.S., people with limited English proficiency. These targeted communities include Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. Fortunately, the Arizona Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander for Equity Coalition (AZAANHPI for Equity) stepped up as a plaintiff in the lawsuit against HB 2243. On September 8, 2022, a federal judge temporarily blocked the law from being implemented. That means, members of all communities can participate in the upcoming midterm election without fear of discrimination for just being different. But make no mistake – HB 2243 is designed to intimidate and to suppress the voices of voters from certain communities and not others. It is Jim Crow by another name.

Aside from Arizona laws, the erosion of voting rights might gain national traction as three cases come before the U.S. Supreme Court. Two cases involve congressional redistricting, representation and diluting the power of Black voters. In the case from Alabama (Merrill v. Milligan), the state legislature drew a district line right through the city of Mobile in an effort to lessen the electoral strength of Black voters. A ruling in favor of Alabama would essentially eviscerate the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In the case from Louisiana (Ardoin v. Robinson), Republican officials are pushing to narrow the definition of who counts as Black in redistricting.

Currently, per federal standards, anyone who marks, Black, along with other racial or ethnic identifiers, in the U.S. Census, is counted as Black for redistricting purposes. Louisiana officials are seeking to limit the definition of Blackness to people who identify as Black only and to those who identify as Black and White, while excluding people who identify as Black and Latino. For advocates of voting rights, such a redefinition would lessen the electoral power of Black voters. Ironically, for the purposes of slavery and segregation, states of the Deep South have historically maintained a broad definition of Blackness as “one drop of blood.” However, for the sake of voting representation, Louisiana suddenly wants to narrow the definition of who counts as Black.

Finally, in the case from North Carolina (Moore v. Harper), Republican lawmakers argue that the Election Clause from the U.S. Constitution grants broad authority to state legislatures in overseeing congressional and presidential elections – an authority that supersedes state courts and state constitutions. Although considered a fringe theory, this approach, if enacted, could end the need and desirability of equitable electoral representation. In fact, if this position is upheld, state legislatures would have the power to overturn federal election results and thus, erasing the voices of voters. Clearly, the industry of distrust has reached the highest level of our judicial system. We must remain vigilant. We must fight for our rights to avoid another failure of political leadership – failures that result in EO 9066 and the January 6 Insurrection. Thank you to May Tiwamangkala, Defending Democracy Director at AZAANHPI for Equity, for keeping a vigilant eye on legislation that impacts our communities. Thank you to Jennifer Chau, Executive Director of AZAANHPI for Equity, for her vision and leadership in mobilizing the Coalition to safeguard our voting, civil and constitutional rights.  JACL-AZ stands proudly as one of eight founding members of the AZAANHPI for Equity Coalition.

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