Voting Rights Groups Urge Court To Force Arizona To Act On Voter Registrations

Published: Thursday, September 13, 2018 - 3:26pm
Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2018 - 3:41pm
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On Wednesday a federal judge listened to arguments for an urgent response to violations of the National Voter Registration Act.

Voting rights groups are asking a federal judge to force Arizona's secretary of state to alert voters their registration information may not be up to date.

KJZZ’s Jimmy Jenkins was at the hearing watching this play out. He joined The Show's Mark Brodie to discuss it.

MARK BRODIE: So Jimmy, what's the basis for this lawsuit?

JIMMY JENKINS: Voting rights groups filed a lawsuit against the state, alleging Arizona violated the National Voter Registration Act by administering a program that doesn't properly sync motor vehicle records with voter registration records. Specifically when you update your home address through the Department of Motor Vehicles — the system is supposed to, according to this act, automatically update your home address tied to your voter registration records. But this doesn't happen in Arizona. At this hearing in federal court yesterday, League of Women Voters Arizona co-president Robyn Prud'homme-Bauer testified that she and other plaintiffs in the case became aware of a problem with the voter registration system.

BRODIE: Well, why is this a problem?

JENKINS: The problem is you move, you update with DMV, you think you're all set, so you go to the new polling place on Election Day, but you haven't actually been updated with voter registration. So you're not technically at the right place and you'll have to vote a provisional ballot, which these voting rights groups say is an unnecessary burden, or worse, you are an early voter and your ballot just went to the wrong address and you never got it.

BRODIE: How many people do we think could be affected by this lapse between these systems?

JENKINS: At this hearing, Eric Jorgensen is the director of ADOT Motor Vehicle Division. He told the court there had been 488,100 address updates since November of 2016. Eric Spencer, who serves as the state election director for the secretary of state's office, said of those updates about 380,000 had been identified as cases where the address for the motor vehicle registration did not match the address for a person's voter registration. So we're looking at about 380,000 people.

BRODIE: That's a lot of people, I mean, what do the voting rights groups want to have happen now?

JENKINS: Well, long-term they want the system updated so it goes with the act, which they said they're working with different parties to accomplish, but right now they're asking this judge for a mandatory preliminary injunction. They want him to order the secretary of state to send a remedial letter to all potentially affected voters, tell them the situation and include in that letter a new voter registration form. There was some discussion as to whether the secretary of state's office has the authority to do this. Also state officials didn't even know if it was physically possible. You'd have to get a bunch of lawyers to agree on the wording of this letter, print it, ship it, all of which they said it would be burdensome, time-consuming and costly.

BRODIE: So Jimmy, did you get a sense of how the judge might rule in this case? And maybe even more importantly, what kind of timetable we're talking about here as the election is just a couple of months away?

JENKINS: Yeah, the judge seemed very skeptical on several fronts. He didn't seem convinced that the secretary of state had this authority. He seemed to think that an action needed to be taken at the DMV to fix this. He also said several times that asking for an injunction like this came with very high burden for the plaintiffs to meet and he didn't seem very convinced that they had met it as he listened to the closing arguments yesterday. So the judge said he would take the matter under advisement. Plaintiffs ask for a remedial letter to be drafted no later than September 17, which is Monday, so happening quick.

BRODIE: All right that's KJZZ'S Jimmy Jenkins. Thanks, Jimmy. 

JENKINS: My pleasure, thank you.

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