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U.S. Supreme Court Opens Path for "Election Reform" Law in AZ

PHOTO: The U.S. Supreme Court's decision that halts enforcement of part of the Voting Rights Act is expected to affect voting policies in Arizona. Courtesy of ProgressVA.
PHOTO: The U.S. Supreme Court's decision that halts enforcement of part of the Voting Rights Act is expected to affect voting policies in Arizona. Courtesy of ProgressVA.
June 26, 2013

PHOENIX - The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to strike down part of the Voting Rights Act means Arizona's new law changing how elections are conducted will go into effect without federal approval.

The decision means the so-called election reform measure signed last week by Gov. Jan Brewer will not need to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department, said Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona.

"What the Department of Justice would typically do is look at whether or not voters would be better off before or after the law," she said. "You look at the impact on minority voters, and if there is a disproportionate impact on voters, then they would reject those changes."

Any changes to Arizona election laws have required federal pre-clearance since 1975.

Brewer issued a statement after the court's decision, saying Arizona has been trapped "under the thumb of the federal government for nearly four decades," and calling the decision a victory for states' rights and sovereignty.

Soler said barriers to the ballot box may not look like they did in the 1970s, but they still exist - in Arizona and across the country.

"I believe we've certainly come a long way since the mid-'70s when we had English-only ballots," she said. "The reality is that the state continues to pass laws that are designed to dilute minority voting strength, and they're designed to prevent members of minorities from voting."

Last week, the high court ordered Arizona to continue using federal voter registration forms instead of state forms that require proof of citizenship. In that case, Soler said, the Supreme Court prevented Arizona from making it harder to register and vote.

"The irony is that this week, the Supreme Court says, 'Arizona, you're no longer required to have your voting procedures checked by the federal government.' But last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the state cannot impose its voter registration requirements beyond what federal law permits," she said.

This week's decision leaves it up to Congress to draw up new procedures for determining which areas of the nation need federal oversight to protect the rights of minority voters.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ