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Arizona: Model State for Voter Suppression

The past few weeks have not been kind to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and it couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch: Rising Republican superstar and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is in furious denial and damage control mode over multiple reports of the striking resemblance of bills he is pushing in his state to ALEC model legislation. A nationwide petition effort by Color of Change to persuade major corporations to drop their support of ALEC appears to be wildly successful, with companies such as Coke, Pepsi, and Kraft Foods and others saying adios to the organization.

Color of Change chose ALEC's attacks on the voting rights of minorities as a main issue for its campaign because it is one of the most insidious ways that ALEC achieves its harmful goals. And my state, Arizona, has been at the forefront of ALEC's voter suppression agenda. Back in 2004, Arizona voters passed Prop 200, a voter ID referendum based on model ALEC legislation, requiring photo ID (or several forms of other documentation) to register and vote at the polls. It was sold to voters by playing on public anger over illegal immigration and with dubious claims of "voter fraud." The result of the law is that thousands of U.S. citizens in Arizona have been disenfranchised due to not having the necessary forms of ID. Minority, elderly, young adult, low income, and people with disabilities have been disproportionately impacted. Several other states are pushing similar voter ID laws this year, which could result in as many as 5 million Americans being denied their right to vote in 2012. That could certainly swing a lot of elections.

Before Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was elected, she was our Secretary of State, responsible for running state elections. Investigative journalist Greg Palast reported in 2010 how Brewer used Prop 200 to justify purging thousands of voters from the rolls: 

In 2008, working for "Rolling Stone" with civil rights attorney Bobby Kennedy, our team flew to Arizona to investigate what smelled like an electoral pogrom against
Chicano voters . . . directed by one Jan Brewer.

Brewer, then secretary of state, had organized a racially loaded purge of the voter rolls that would have made Katherine Harris blush. Beginning after the 2004 election, under Brewer's command, no fewer than 100,000 voters, overwhelmingly Hispanic, were blocked from registering to vote. In 2005, the first year of the Great Brown-Out, one in three Phoenix residents found their registration applications rejected.

But community get-out-the-vote efforts, particularly in urban areas, are going strong these days. The recent election of Daniel Valenzuela to the Phoenix City Council was attributed to a 400 percent increase in Hispanic voter registration in his district. So you can see why Arizona's ALEC-owned politicians are deeply worried about demographic trends threatening their majorities. Voting rights advocates expect them to double down on efforts to make it harder to vote.

Voter suppression is one of many issues the Arizona Working Families coalition will be calling attention to at a press conference Thursday morning at the State Capitol, where they will announce the release of a new report on ALEC's influence at the Arizona Legislature. The report is a collaboration of People for the
American Way and Common Cause. You can read last year's report here. I also highly recommend The New Face of Jim Crow: Voter Suppression in America for a primer on how powerful interests are undermining democracy at the ballot box.

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