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Congressional panel in Phoenix hears claims of voter inequality

(KTAR News/Peter Samore)

PHOENIX — Congress came to Phoenix College for a house subcommittee hearing on voter rights and accessibility for Arizona’s Native Americans.

By state law, voters must produce photographic identification at polling places.

“In contrast, individuals who cast provisional ballots, or vote early by mail, do not have to provide identification in order to receive their ballots,” said Stephen Roe Lewis, governor of the Gila River Indian Community.

He also says his tribal members, in some cases, must drive 95 miles to polling places.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez says his people don’t like vote by mail.

“When there is a day of elections, it’s a day to bring everybody together to catch up with family members,” he explained.

Arizona has closed 320 polling places this decade in favor of vote by mail.

In some cases, five Navajo families share the same P.O. box, possibly confusing postal workers.

Nez also said moving the primary elections away from his community’s elections in 2016 hurt voter turnout.

“A lot of the laws that are being changed for the state of Arizona go through the legislature and, sometimes, they don’t know that hurts the nation.”

Other activists at Tuesday’s panel called lack of voter access among tribes a violation of equal access laws.

“While every county has in-person early voting off reservation, there are limited opportunities in-person early voting off reservation,” said Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, director of the Indian Legal Clinic at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

She also says tribal lands have unreliable internet access to register to vote online.

Alex Gulotta with the group All Voting is Local admits that polling place technology has improved.

“But we have made these changes without doing any analysis of the potential racial impact,” he claimed.

The activists told the congressional panel that online registration forms don’t match paper forms.

In a statement, Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes said he appreciates the congressional panel coming to Phoenix, but he wants them to know Arizona has expanded curbside voting and provided audio ballots for non-written languages.

Fontes also said he wants the public “to have and gain confidence in our election system.”

He added, in Maricopa County, nearly two-thirds of registered voters turned out at last year’s midterm election — a record.

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