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Monday, November 12, 2012

Voting Arizona: Chaos in the wake of efforts to suppress the vote

Conventional wisdom has it that the re-election of President Obama means efforts to suppress the vote failed.

Try telling that to tens of thousands of voters in Arizona.

You remember Arizona: The state where basic information about when to vote kept getting, literally, lost in translation, with Spanish-language information sometimes misstating the date for the election.

It turns out, that wasn’t the only problem.

As of Saturday 486,405 ballots still had not been counted – this in a state with 3.1 million registered voters. Of that total, 178,785 are “provisional” ballots, often cast by voters who couldn’t meet the strict requirements of Arizona’s Voter ID law. (The remainder are ballots cast through early voting.)

According to The NewYork Times:
Activists say that they believe, based on what they have heard from people in the field, that provisional ballots tended to be used most often in Hispanic and black neighborhoods. … Advocates and elected officials are worried, though, that voters who had to cast conditional provisional ballots because they forgot to bring identification to the polls, as state law requires, may not know they have to present their ID at the county elections office by Wednesday for their vote to count.

The counting of these ballots may determine the outcome of several races. In a race for a new Congressional seat in Phoenix, counting of provisional and early ballots widened the lead of Democrat Kyrsten Sinema to the point that the Associated Press has declared her the winner over Republican Vernon Parker. Democrat Ron Barber, a former aide to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has retaken the lead in a very close race to keep that seat, which he first won in a special election to succeed Giffords.

And the Times reports there’s a slim chance that even the results of the U.S. Senate election in Arizona might be in doubt:
[A]s of Friday, Jeff Flake, a Republican congressman, was ahead of his Democratic challenger, Richard H. Carmona, by 78,775 votes, according to unofficial results posted by the secretary of state. Mr. Carmona conceded on Tuesday; on Friday, in a message to supporters, he wrote, “We will take every necessary step to make sure all of our supporters’ ballots are counted.”

The U.S. Department of Justice was concerned enough about the mess in Arizona to send in federal observers, something it is empowered to do thanks to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That, of course, is the civil rights law some say no longer is needed.

The U.S. Supreme Court has just agreed to hear a challenge to a key provision of that law – though this challenge, even if successful, would not affect the right to send in federal observers.

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