As the Republican-controlled Arizona legislature works to pass voter suppression laws, Democrats at the national level have one chance to stop the GOP assault on voting rights.
In 2020, Arizona voters sent Joe Biden to the White House and Mark Kelly to the Senate, where he helped give Democrats the narrow majority that passed the $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan. Now, Republicans in the Arizona Legislature are working to ensure that never happens again by proposing dozens of bills that would make it more difficult to vote.
Democrats at the national level, however, have one arrow left in the quiver to stop the GOP’s war on voting rights: the For The People Act (H.R.1).
Passed by the House on March 3, H.R.1 would allow automatic voter registration, set unified early and mail-in voting standards, enact campaign finance reform, and modernize elections while ensuring their security. The bill is also all but certain to stall out in the Senate.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made clear he opposes the comprehensive democracy reform bill. If Democrats choose to eliminate the filibuster, they could pass the For the People Act with their 50-vote majority and halt the voter suppression efforts in Arizona.
Republican lawmakers in states across the country have introduced more than 250 bills to disenfranchise voters, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. Leading the nation in proposed voter suppression legislation in 2021 is Arizona, where lawmakers have introduced 22 bills designed to restrict voting access.
The battles over the For the People Act and the filibuster will play out in the coming weeks and months. As Republican lawmakers in Arizona and other states have made clear, there is a lot at stake.
‘Very Dangerous’ Bills Introduced in Arizona
About 80% of Arizonans currently vote by mail. Republicans’ efforts to restrict voting include legislation that would make it much more difficult for most Arizona residents to vote by mail. Other Republican-proposed bills would shorten the time for early voting, purge voters from early voting lists, and preemptively ban automatic voter registration. One bill even allows state lawmakers to override the will of voters and choose its own slate of presidential electors.
Rosemary Avila, campaign manager for All Voting is Local Arizona, said the proposed bills are clear attacks on our voting rights. “And if we’re attacking our voting rights, then ultimately we’re attacking our democracy,” she told the Copper Courier.
Avila said the increased Republican interest in implementing more restrictive voting laws is an extension of former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims about voter fraud. Between August and January, Trump made nearly 2,300 false or misleading claims about the 2020 election, according to a Washington Post database. None of those statements was ever proven, and his campaign lost more than 60 court cases challenging election results.
But Trump’s voters believed his false claims, and Arizona Republicans are exploiting them to try to curtail voting rights. The consequences of these exclusionary voter suppression efforts could be devastating for the interests of ordinary Arizonans.
“If you’re not able to easily access the voting process, then your voice is essentially [excluded] from that, and you’re not able to elect leaders who may reflect the values that are important to you,” Avila said.
Stacey Abrams, the former lawmaker and voting rights advocate who helped flip Georgia blue, called out Arizona Republicans, accusing them of trying to suppress the votes of Latinx, Indigenous, and young Arizonans—all of whom disproportionately voted Democratic in 2020.
The disproportionate racial impact of these bills came to the fore on Monday, when the Arizona Senate voted along party lines to require voters who vote by mail to include an affidavit with their birthdate and the number from their driver’s license, state ID or tribal identification card.
Democratic lawmakers argued that the bill would potentially result in thousands of ballots being thrown out and disproportionately harm people of color and low-income voters because they are most likely to lack a driver’s license or printer to provide the necessary information.
“This will hurt my community. This will hurt my neighborhood,” Sen. Martin Quezada (D-Glendale) said. “And the people who look like me and vote like me, this will hurt us.”
Sen. Victoria Steele (D-Tucson) added that such a move would perpetuate systemic racism by disproportionately targeting voters of color. “When policies disproportionately impact communities of color, we have to look at that,” Steele said.
Facing this onslaught of voter suppression bills, Avila said it is imperative to advocate for “bold change in our democratic systems”—the sorts of changes that HR1 would enact.
The For the People Act ‘Gives Power Back to People’
While lawmakers in Arizona and other swing states work to tighten voting laws and make it more difficult to participate in elections, Democrats are working to do the opposite: make voting more accessible for all eligible voters by passing the For the People Act.
When it was first introduced, the bill was called “the most significant democracy reform bill in a generation,” and that description holds true today.
The sweeping proposal would remove barriers to voter registration, allowing for online and same-day voter registration. Under the law, the state would also automatically register any eligible Arizonan who interacts with government agencies. The law would also set national standards mandating at least 15 early-voting days, including weekends. It would allow any voter who wants to vote by mail and authorize election officials to begin counting ballots before Election Day to prevent delays in results.
The For the People Act would restore voting rights to all Americans with past criminal convictions upon their release. More than 200,000 Arizonans—about 5% of the state’s eligible voters—are currently unable to vote due to past felony records, according to a 2020 report from the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice nonprofit. Arizona’s voting policies for people with felonies are also more restrictive than those of 40 other states, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Because of the racial inequality in the US criminal justice system, Black and Latino Arizonans are disproportionately likely to be disenfranchised by these policies, according to the Sentencing Project’s report.
Avila believes restoring voting rights and other measures included in the act would give “power back to people here in this nation” and counteract the Arizona GOP’s attempts to exclude people from elections and democracy.
“In order for us to have a strong democracy, we need to make sure that it’s inclusive of all people, of all voices, and everybody from all backgrounds,” she said. “If we don’t [pass H.R.1], it’s hard for us to make progress on any other critical issues that are facing our state here in Arizona and our country more broadly.”