Cyber Ninjas owner Doug Logan, left, a Florida-based consultancy, talks about overseeing a 2020 election ballot audit ordered by the Republican lead Arizona Senate at the Arizona Veterans Memorial.
Lizzie O'Leary: It's The Takeaway. I'm Lizzie O'Leary in for Tanzina Vega. As we've been hearing voting restriction bills have been on the rise this year. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, more than 300 of these bills have been introduced in 47 states. In Arizona, which has introduced 23 voting restriction bills so far this year. Voting rights advocates are concerned that this legislation will make it harder for Native communities to vote, a key demographic that helped President Biden secure the state last November. For more on this, I'm joined by Torey Dolan, a Native Vote fellow at Arizona State University’s Indian Law Clinic and a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Welcome to the show.
Torey Dolan: Thanks for having me.
Lizzie: Before we get into the specific legislation, last fall you spent election day doing field calls for native vote Arizona's election protection hotline. What issues were you hearing that native communities in Arizona were struggling with, in general, when it comes to voting?
Torey: In general, we saw issues with some polling locations not being open on time, voters being wrongfully turned away because of ID or possibly because confusion about what precinct they're in because of the reality of having non-standard addresses on reservations, as well as voter intimidation and some incidences of voter harassment.
Lizzie: One of the proposed bills would require proof of ID for mail-in ballots. What issues would that create for indigenous communities in Arizona?
Torey: The original version of that bill SB 1713 included the use of tribal ID, which is a valid form of ID to present when you're voting in person. However, the bill was subject to a strike all amendment and so tribal ID no longer qualifies. The two forms of ID numbers that you would have to put on your ballot by mail would be your driver's license or your voter registration number. Indigenous communities generally because of rates of poverty or lack of access, do not have driver's license numbers at the same [unintelligible 00:02:00]
Maricopa County is the only county where you can verify your voter registration number online. We also know that minority language speakers may have issues getting a hold of their voter registration number because they would have to call the county directly and there's no guarantee that there's going to be somebody at the county office that speaks their language.
The other issue is that it requires that you put your date of birth. We know that many indigenous elders here in the state of Arizona were born at home and have delayed birth certificates or government records that estimate a birthday. Many of them don't know what their government-assigned birthday is. If you get that number wrong, your ballot will have to be cured. Meaning that the county is going to have to reach out to you, which is a difficult process for hard-to-reach indigenous communities that don't have access to electricity or phone services.
Lizzie: You mentioned language, and I'm wondering what role language plays in in terms of voter access for Native communities and whether any of these proposed laws impact this.
Torey: Language access is a big deal for indigenous communities here in Arizona. There are two tribes where their reservations are covered by section 203 of the Voting Rights Act. The San Carlos Apache Tribe on their reservation and the Navajo Nation on their reservation, have a right to minority language assistance. One bill that was passed out of both houses and is being sent to the governor's desk this week is SB 1003, which essentially, that bill gives the county less time to cure about with a missing signature.
The Navajo Nation brought a lawsuit in 2018 challenging that practice because you have five business days after the election to cure a mismatched signature, but nobody was translating the instructions to Navajo language speakers that you had to sign the ballot. They were turning in their ballot unsigned. In 2019, the Navajo Nation entered into settlement agreements with the three counties that covered the reservation as well as the Secretary of State's office to address this ambiguity in the law to have unsigned ballots treated the same as mismatched signatures. However, the bill that's passed completely undermines that settlement.
Lizzie: If you have these questions about language, and then also proof of ID, how does that work for early and absentee voting?
Torey: Indigenous people don't vote by mail at the same rate as the rest of Arizona because they don't have the same access to mail on reservations. It can take 10 days for a piece of mail to get from the county seat to a reservation in some instances. There historically has been less use of voting by mail. As a result of the pandemic, more people opted to vote by mail and tribal communities.
The access to translators is a barrier because although they have a right to it provided by the county, many indigenous people who vote by mail rely on family to translate a ballot. Now with the voter ID issue when voting by mail, it will completely disrupt the process for those who have newly moved to voting by mail and may not know how to navigate that idea provision. We anticipate that should that bill become law, we'll probably see a number of ballots returned from tribal communities without that ID.
Lizzie: Is there any indication as to why this is happening? Is it targeting the native community or are they caught up in something broader?
Torey: I certainly can't speak to the intent of the legislators. I know from listening to committee hearings and floor debates that the regular reason offered for introducing these bills is voter integrity. I certainly haven't seen evidence myself as to what suggests that Arizona's election system is lacking integrity. There certainly has been comments in these hearings and on the floor from non-indigenous representatives and indigenous representatives about what the impact on tribal communities will be. Unfortunately, some of the bills are moving nonetheless.
Lizzie: We don't have a lot of time left, but there is a voting rights bill in the US Senate. If that passes, will that have any effect on what's happening in Arizona?
Torey: Yes. Some of the bills that are introduced in the US Congress will preempt a lot of existing Arizona law and may preempt a number of these bad bills to increase access.
Lizzie: Torey Dolan is a Native Vote Fellow at Arizona State University's Indian Legal Clinic. Torey, thank you so much for coming on.
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