Voter suppression efforts across the country made headlines prior to the election. More than a week later, Arizona may be showing itself as the poster child and prototype of the impact of disenfranchisement.
By most accounts, the race for Maricopa County Sheriff in Arizona was a slam dunk for incumbent Joe Arpaio despite massive voter registration and get out the vote efforts aimed at ousting the notorious lawman. Rachel Torres, a researcher with UNITE HERE! in Phoenix, told Politic365 via phone interview that the young people she works with registered about 30,000 people. Organizers now are pushing back in the Grand Canyon State, advocating for people they helped get to polls but whose votes may be among the hundreds of thousands of uncounted ballots.
Provisional ballots seem be at the crux of what some are saying is voter suppression. Voters that registered for the first time had not received their sample ballots and did not know where their polling locations were. So voters who appeared at the wrong polling sites had to cast provisional ballots. Many first time voters who requested mail in ballots never received them. Torres cited a case of a first time voter, a new U.S. citizen from Iran who arrived at his polling place and was told to cast a provisional ballot with no explanation as to why. Over half of these early and provisional votes are from the heavily Latino populated Maricopa County.
If the national election for president was all about arithmetic, then the math in Arizona should be raising a concern. Voter turnout in the state in 2008 was at about two million, with one and a half million voters turning up at the polls in Maricopa County alone. This year, officials are reporting that only a million and half votes were cast statewide. Either Arizona really is blazing it’s own path in terms of voter apathy or voter suppression accusations are true, with one out of three votes uncounted, among them over 250,000 provisional and early ballots in Maricopa county.
Roberto Lovato, Strategist and Co-Founder of Presente.org has been collaborating on the ground in Arizona with organizations like Promise AZ, supporting voters who want their constitutional right respected and recognized. He told Politic365 via telephone that, “Arizona symbolizes the efforts to suppress the vote in the U.S. This year there was an unprecedented effort against Latino voters because of demographic changes and because of the weight of the Latino vote. This is a preview of what could be the law of the land if voter ID laws and other suppression efforts are passed.”
Ignoring votes is only one aspect efforts to prevent people from exercising their right to participate in the democratic process. GOP Senate candidate Jeff Flake’s campaign sent out misleading robocalls to Democratic voters about their polling place. Flake’s win against Democrat Richard Carmona is one of the races whose results are being called into question because of votes not being counted. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s race is separated by a mere 80,000 votes. Two House seats and more local races that could be affected by the more than half a million votes in Arizona that have not been counted.
According to Rachel Torres, the votes were being counted, although at an excruciatingly slow pace, about 45 minutes per vote. So it’s not clear when all the votes will be counted but she was hopeful and said the mood on the ground was positive, “Yes people are angry, and they take this as a sign to be more vigilant. But there is a transformation happening. A new Arizona is emerging led by young people.”
Roberto Lovato was equally hopeful but cautious, “As activists we have to believe that our actions can and will yield fruit, but we have to keep the pressure up, especially against Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell.”