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Analysis

Arizona Is the Epicenter of the Fight for Voting Rights Today

One of the worst voter suppression laws in the nation, fueled by conspiracy theories, has pushed Arizona to the forefront of the fight for voting rights.

June 2, 2022

In a brazen repu­di­ation of federal law and recent Supreme Court preced­ent, Arizona recently enacted a law requir­ing docu­ment­ary proof of citizen­ship to vote by mail or in pres­id­en­tial elec­tions. In 2021, Arizona was one of the 17 states nation­wide to enact new restrict­ive voting laws. Now it’s trying to break away from the rest of the voter suppres­sion pack.

After a year and a half of conspir­acy theor­ies, a partisan postelec­tion “audit,” anti­demo­cratic legis­la­tion, elec­tion sabot­age rhet­oric from polit­ical candid­ates, and a Supreme Court ruling further weak­en­ing the Voting Rights Act, Arizona has become a key battle­ground in the fight for voting rights.

Arizon­a’s story is not all bad news, however. This fall, Arizona voters will likely have a chance to approve a ballot initi­at­ive to expand voting access and protect against elec­tion sabot­age.

In 2020, Arizona saw an increas­ingly diverse elect­or­ate turn out to vote at historic rates. As soon as returns start­ing coming in on elec­tion night, anti-voter activ­ists began spread­ing false claims about rampant voter fraud. Crowds began to form outside of elec­tion offices in Mari­copa County, making bizarre alleg­a­tions about Sharpie pens being used to mark ballots, noncit­izens voting, and votes for Pres­id­ent Trump being discarded.

These false claims proved durable in Arizona, among other places. In early 2021, State Senate Pres­id­ent Karen Fann (R) ordered an audit of the 2020 pres­id­en­tial results in Mari­copa County, initi­at­ing a review process that — despite being deeply flawed and partisan from the begin­ning — ulti­mately found no evid­ence of fraud. Never­the­less, Arizona lawmakers have contin­ued to use the unre­li­able review as evid­ence of the need for new restrict­ive voting policies. 

In April 2022, Attor­ney General Mark Brnovich (R) announced that the so-called audit had iden­ti­fied “seri­ous vulner­ab­il­it­ies” that neces­sit­ated further restric­tions on voting access — a claim that the Repub­lican Mari­copa County recorder has called “despic­able.” And at a confer­ence soon after, Fann went so far as to say that the results of the audit should require the state to “uncer­tify” the results of the 2020 elec­tion. 

The false claims about the 2020 elec­tion have bled into campaigns for governor and secret­ary of state, who both play a role in admin­is­trat­ing and certi­fy­ing elec­tion results in Arizona. Candid­ates have praised the Mari­copa audit, called the 2020 elec­tion “rigged,” stated that they would have refused to certify the results in 2020, and intro­duced bills that would allow the legis­lature to over­ride the popu­lar vote.

Since the start of the 2021 legis­lat­ive session, Arizona lawmakers have continu­ally relied on these false claims of fraud to intro­duce and enact new restric­tions on the right to vote. The most seri­ous of Arizon­a’s 2021 voting laws is Senate Bill 1485, which elim­in­ates the state’s perman­ent early voting list and will make voting by mail more diffi­cult for tens of thou­sands of Arizon­ans.

While legis­lat­ive activ­ity around elec­tions has slowed in many states in 2022, the pace in Arizona has intens­i­fied. Despite some lawmakers’ prom­ises to not rely on the Mari­copa audit as justi­fic­a­tion for further changes to state voting laws, Arizona is among the national lead­ers in the sheer number of restrict­ive bills intro­duced this year. In addi­tion to bills restrict­ing voting access, Arizona leads the nation in the number of elec­tion inter­fer­ence bills that have been intro­duced in 2022. 

New restrict­ive voting bills intro­duced in Arizona this year include provi­sions to limit the avail­ab­il­ity of mail ballot drop boxes, tighten voter ID rules, and expand poten­tially faulty voter purge prac­tices. The elec­tion inter­fer­ence bills range from extreme propos­als to allow the legis­lature to directly over­turn elec­tion results to more subtle attempts to subvert the elect­oral process by impos­ing crim­inal penal­ties against elec­tion offi­cials for minor mistakes such as fail­ing to update their computer pass­words. In addi­tion to legis­la­tion, Arizona lawmakers also put a resol­u­tion on the ballot this fall that could disen­fran­chise thou­sands of voters by insti­tut­ing a mail ballot iden­ti­fic­a­tion number require­ment similar to the flawed system recently enacted in Texas.

The center­piece of Arizon­a’s attack on voting rights so far is House Bill 2492, one of the only restrict­ive laws enacted in the coun­try so far this year. Previ­ously, Arizona law required voters to produce docu­ment­ary proof of citizen­ship to register to vote in state elec­tions. H.B. 2492 expands this require­ment to cover pres­id­en­tial elec­tions and also requires proof of citizen­ship to be eligible to vote by mail. Local advoc­ates have estim­ated that the bill could kick up to 192,000 Arizon­ans off the state voter rolls, and docu­ment­ary proof of citizen­ship laws histor­ic­ally have had a discrim­in­at­ory effect on communit­ies of color.

Further, H.B. 2492 could be an attempt to push the Supreme Court to further erode voting rights. The Court recently held that Arizon­a’s previ­ous attempt to require docu­ment­ary proof of citizen­ship for federal voter regis­tra­tion viol­ated the National Voter Regis­tra­tion Act. This new law seems designed as an invit­a­tion to the Court to recon­sider that ruling. 

Since the 2020 elec­tion, Arizona lawmakers have shown a consist­ent interest in using false claims about voter fraud as the raw mater­ial for justi­fy­ing new restrict­ive voting laws.

In many ways, these lawmakers have put Arizona at the center of the fight to make voting harder — but it’s also at the center of the fight to defend voting rights. There are already multiple lawsuits chal­len­ging H.B. 2492, and Arizona voters may also have a chance to voice their oppos­i­tion to these restric­tions by voting for a poten­tial ballot initi­at­ive that will expand voter access in the fall. This year may prove to be a pivotal moment in the traject­ory of Arizon­a’s demo­cracy — not to mention Amer­ica’s.