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Updated Mar 21, 2013 - 2:30 pm

Latino youths protest Arizona election reform

PHOENIX — A proposed overhaul of Arizona’s early voting laws has been
blasted by Latino youth who say the Republican-backed effort would suppress
minority turnout just as more Hispanics are registering to vote.

Students on spring break hosted a rally at the Arizona Legislature on Thursday
in opposition to two measures that would limit who gets to vote early and how
mail ballots are returned to local election officials. They also met with more
than 20 lawmakers, including House Speaker Andy Tobin.

Hispanics leaders, including Arizona Democratic lawmakers, said the election
bills are aimed at silencing voters who tend to vote for Democrats. Republicans
currently control Arizona’s state government.

“We are not going away,” said Daria Ovide, a Phoenix-based voting activist.
“We are going to be voting no matter what and we are going to remember who was
helpful and who was not helpful.”

One proposed law would kick people off early voting lists if they didn’t use a
mail ballot during the past two federal elections. It would be retroactive to
include the 2010 elections. People would be notified of their pending removal
and would need to return that notice within 30 days to continue receiving early
ballots. It also would make it harder for political groups to submit early
ballot requests from voters.

Voters removed from the early voting list would remain registered to vote.
Local election officials support the measure because voters who are sent mail
ballots and then show up at polling places wanting to vote can create confusion
and delays.

The other measure would allow only designated people to return the early
ballots. Latino groups regularly collected early ballots from voters’ homes and
delivered them to elections officials in 2012.

Under the proposed law, a voter would need to declare on a ballot affidavit
that their vote was sealed prior to giving it to a designated delivery person.
The person returning the ballot must also declare on the ballot affidavit form
that the vote was sealed. Both the voter and the person assisting must print and
sign their name.

Voting advocates said they registered nearly 17,000 new Latino voters in 2012
based on a review of voters with Hispanic surnames. If the measures pass, the
advocates say they will have to retrace their steps to make sure those voters
can still receive mail ballots.

“We are fighting a war today, a war for democracy,” said 16-year-old student
Jenny Diaz at the rally.

The bills’ sponsor, Republican Sen. Michele Reagan, has been receptive to
complaints about her bills in recent weeks, welcoming amendments that have
softened what were once much tougher measures aimed at reducing voter fraud and
eliminating paperwork for understaffed election offices. Reagan and other
Republicans have denounced complaints that the measures are anti-Latino.

But critics counter that Arizona Republicans have seen other Western states
turn Democratic because of ballooning Latino voter populations and are trying to
avoid the same fate.

The number of Latino voters on the state’s early voting list more than doubled
from 2008 to 2012, according to Mi Familia Vota, a Phoenix-based organization
that helps register voters. Nearly 20 percent of Arizona voters are Latino,
according to exit polls and Mi Familia Vota estimates.

Latino voters have a tense relationship with Arizona election law. Arizona’s
Proposition 200 passed in 2004 requires that prospective voters document their
U.S. citizenship in order to use a registration form produced under the federal
“motor voter” registration law. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said
federal law, which doesn’t require such documentation, trumps state law. Arizona
appealed and the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case Monday.

___

Cristina Silva can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/cristymsilva

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