Arizona lawmakers may make it a felony for community groups or political committees to gather and submit mail ballots before elections, a strategy used by Latino activists and others to boost voter participation. The measure moving through the Republican-controlled Legislature is among several bills that backers say will help prevent fraud and reduce the burden on election officials. Opponents say they are intended to curb Latino voting, which tends to be Democratic, as Hispanics become a larger percentage of the population while white baby-boomers age. “These bills are targeted at groups that are turning out the Latino vote,” said Roopali Desai, a Phoenix lawyer representing Promise Arizona, which said it helped register more than 34,000 new voters and turned in thousands of ballots last year. “They are trying to take away the tools in these groups’ toolkits, like mobilizing and getting people to return their ballots — tools that we have learned are successful.”
More than 56 percent of all Arizona voters were signed up to receive ballots by mail in November, up from about 40 percent in 2010, according to the Secretary of State’s office. The dispute comes as the U.S. Supreme Court weighs a provision of the Voting Rights Act that requires Arizona and several other states, mostly in the South, to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department before making changes in voting laws.
It echoes the fights of the past election cycle over voting access in some swing states, including Ohio and Florida, where Democrats resisted measures Republicans said were needed to combat voter fraud and ensure smooth elections.