Will legislators be voting to take away your vote?

January 24th, 2014

We almost found out Thursday exactly how much the Re­publicans who control the Legislature resent Arizona voters.

Unfortunately, the hearing at which lawmakers would have made their feelings known was postponed, per­haps because there were TV cameras and actual voters on hand.

But trust me. These people don’t see voters as necessary evils. They see them as unneces­sary ones.

The Legislature proved it last year, when it passed House Bill 2305, an omnibus voter­suppression law. Among other things, HB 2305 would have made it really tough for third parties to get on the ballot by increasing the number of signa­tures their candidates need to qualify. (This was aimed mostly at Libertarians. Repub­licans believe Libertarian candidates on the ballot cost them a few congressional seats.) The law also would have made it a lot more difficult for citizens to get initiatives on the ballot. (Meantime, the Legislature is able to refer a proposal to the ballot with a simple vote.) And it would have prohibited organizations or political parties from collecting signed and sealed individual ballots and dropping them off at a polling place, which would make voting more difficult for elderly, homebound and disabled voters. “It’s unbelievable. It’s bizarre,” Barry Hess, the Libertarian Party’s vice chairman, told me after the bill passed. “These people (legislators) don’t seem to understand that to win by exclusion isn’t to win. It’s to cheat. It’s a lack of character.”

So, a group of citizens got together and formed the Protect Your Right To Vote Committee. They collected well over 100,000 petition signatures, which put HB 2305 on hold and instead referred the proposal to the November 2014 ballot.

This allows us to decide by popular vote whether we want the provisions of HB 2305 to go into effect.

Now, however, legislators want take away your ability to vote on the referendum.

They want to repeal HB 2305. That was the plan for Thursday’s postponed hearing. Repealing the law doesn’t mean lawmakers agree that HB 2305 is a really bad idea.

Just the opposite.

It means legislators are afraid.

They’re afraid if they allow the referendum on HB 2305 to go forward, it will pass. And they’re really afraid that if the referendum passed, the state’s Voter Protection Act would kick in and prevent lawmakers from messing with election laws in the future.

Instead, if they repeal the law, they could come back later and enact these same voter-suppression measures.

“We are not shocked by their tactics,” said Julie Erfle, chairwoman of the Protect Your Right to Vote Committee. “We thought they would try to mess with it somehow. Clearly, legislators realize that HB 2305 was not popular and would most likely be overturned. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to have stopped them from making another attempt at doing exactly what the voters don’t want them to do: Take away our vote.

“We went through the process of gathering signatures, and this was all about giving voters a say in this matter. If you want to make these kinds of massive changes in the election laws, which directly impact voters, then let the voters have a say. That’s what our petition drive was all about. Clearly, they don’t want that.”

No, they don’t. But postponing a single hearing doesn’t mean this is over.

“A lot of bad ideas get through at the very end of a session with strike-all amendments, a lack of hearings and other tactics,” Erfle said. “We’re worried that will happen with this issue. It’s just another way for them to circumvent voters. This is one of those issues that causes people to turn away from politics. As a state legislator, as a public servant, you should be doing everything you can to get people involved in the process. This does just the opposite. This is an insult to voters.”

It is. But we should not be shocked that our elected officials hold us in such a low regard.

They have solid evidence to back up their disdain.

We elected them.

Reach Montini at 602-444-8978.

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