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Mon, Feb. 17

Column: Officials must make voting accessible

The League of Women Voters of Arizona believes that all eligible citizens have a right to vote along with a responsibility to be informed about the voting process, the issues and the candidates.

However, the primary responsibility for ensuring that the voting process is easily accessible to all, with no barriers to voting, lies with those public officials in charge of elections.

This is especially important for individuals who have faced prior patterns of discrimination based on ethnicity, income or geography, as was covered under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

This section of the Voting Rights Act exists to ensure that no proposed changes in procedures could negatively impact voting rights. The League of Women Voters is a strong proponent of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

On Tuesday, March 22, three years after Section 5 was declared unconstitutional, voters in Maricopa County witnessed a very flawed presidential preference election. These flaws could have been prevented if the changes in voting procedures – including reducing the number of polling places from 200 to 60 in the geographically largest county in the US – had first been reviewed by the Department of Justice.

This has been a volatile election season for several months, with many candidates entering and exiting the Presidential race. Voters were more likely not to use the early voting ballot because they wanted to see who would be left on the ballot on election day.

The fact that non-declared “independent” voters could not vote in this election unless they registered with a party was a real problem. Even though many organizations – including the League of Women Voters, the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, and political parties –spoke about this voter status, and even though county election officials sent information to all registered voters about re-registering if they were “independents,” many voters missed the message. And, the media did not help when calling this a “primary” election – it was not!

The most unacceptable part of this election was to see voters waiting as long as five hours to cast a vote. We must applaud voters for their tenacity – they wanted to vote and see their vote count! The hugely reduced number of voting centers indicates that election officials and the Arizona Legislature should review existing election statutes to ensure that this spectacle of long lines and provisional ballots will not take place again in the future.

The League of Women Voters of Arizona supports an election system that provides a stronger voice for the greatest number of voters, and any such system should have a positive effect on voter participation. We support standardized voting administration across counties in the state. Uniform procedures should promote ease of registration and ease of voting whether it is via early voting ballots, in-person early voting, or voting at polling places. And, legislators should consider making this presidential preference election a true open primary that allow all voters to vote.

Yes, voting is a right for all eligible voters BUT the responsibility for the process of voting belongs not only to voters but also to our government, which we entrust to carry out this most valued democratic process. The problems seen during this presidential preference election should not happen again in Arizona. We all need to work together on a more open, fair and accessible voting system.

This Talk of the Town was submitted by Shirley Sandelands of the League of Women Voters of Arizona, Phoenix, and Terri Farneti, president, LWVCYC, Prescott.

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