Legislative Update

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Join us for our weekly update from the Capitol with a reporter from the Arizona Capitol Times.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The U.S. Supreme Court hearing on an Alabama voting rights case gets the attention of lawmakers in Arizona. Here to tell us more on that and other political issues is Jim Small of the Arizona Capitol Times. Jim, good to see you. Why do we care about a voting case in Alabama?

Jim Small: Because this lawsuit comes out of Shelby county, Alabama. Challenges section 5 of the voting rights act, which is a section that applies to states and jurisdictions across the country. Arizona is one of them. And essentially, it's, it applies tougher standards to areas like Arizona if they want to change election laws or procedures or anything like that. Anything that we do in that realm. From city level to county level to state level. Needs to be, essentially, sent to the department of Justice, and they need to review it and give it a preclearance. Essentially, say ok, we think that this is going to be an ok change that's not going to harm the ability of minorities to vote in your, in your area. And so, this, this -- this lawsuit is challenging, and, and the supreme heard arguments on it as to whether it is needed in 2013.

Ted Simons: And the idea being that, that not only is it not need, about you but the states like Alabama, like Arizona, these are states with a history of, of peculiarities.

Jim Small: They have not update the formula for determining where this apply since the 1970s. So, you know, we're talking 40 years ago that, that was the last time that they looked at this, and said ok, here's how we're going to decide how to apply this. So, you know, a couple of years ago, I think last year, Tom Horne filed a lawsuit saying that Arizona shouldn't be covered by this because everything has changed so dramatically since the 1970s, and even under the, the metrics they used then, if they had avoided two years to apply it to Arizona, it would not have applied. So, there is this whole idea that -- the world is a different place. And maybe we need to look and see how do we determine which areas are having problems and need additional Federal oversight?

Ted Simons: And general Tom Horne did file a brief supporting the Alabama position in this case.

Jim Small: His lawsuit got withdrawn waiting to see, this case was further along, and he did file a brief supporting what Alabama was asking for.

Ted Simons: And yet, you know, reading stories on this, it sounds as though the critics say the Federal oversight is needed in Arizona because there are problems, there was a, I think there is a tribal lawsuit over the voter I.D. law, and the way of electing school boards has been questioned regarding native American participation and the ability to be elected. And that the oversight, actually, heads off the kinds things that would lead to lawsuits. So, it's not necessarily cut and dry, is it?

Jim Small: No, it's not. And really, a lot of legal scholars and court watchers are of the opinion that the court is -- they are not going to strike down the whole act. Congress just, just reauthorized the voting rights' acted six years ago. In 2006, seven years ago, and they gave it their stamp of approval and said we are going to approve this for 25 years, but at the same time, you know, whether the court looks at the formula and how it's applied to the states and to counties and the cities, and says, it's unconstitutionally applied, it's something that's need and is good to have their protection, and, you need to really look at how it's applied and come up with a more current and more, more, more contemporary way to make sure that this is helping the people who need it.

Ted Simons: And it's -- my impression was, was that, that, the Justices seemed somewhat interested in the Alabama argument? More so than, than, perhaps, otherwise?

Jim Small: Yeah, there was signs, Justice Kennedy was one of the people who, who folks were looking at, and Justice Roberts are viewed as the two potential swing votes on this issue, and both were asking questions that, that, to, to people who know far more about these issues than I do, and kind of indicated that, that, that they were, were maybe siding with Alabama or were at least, you know, more receptive to the cause.

Ted Simons: And some election bill reforms, we talked about this. We had Senator Reagan, Michelle Reagan on the show talking about election reform bills, and three these things now have pass the Senate, is that true?

Jim Small: Yeah. So, these are all bills that have, they sprung out of the, of the time from last year when the ballots were cast, and it took two weeks to count the ballots, and they are provisions aimed at trying to find ways to maybe lessen that and speed up the count, and decrease the number of provisional ballots and, and really make it easier for elections officials to deal with those and with ballot initiatives and how, how they, they handle, you know, having to validate hundreds of thousands of signatures only to go into court and have the court race through a case.

Ted Simons: The mail-in ballots, one of the laws, only a family or a household member can turn in another family or household member's mail-in ballot, that would eliminate the crowded business there in the polling places.

Jim Small: It would, and one of the other interesting things that bill does, actually, and it's something that, that seems like a lot of people, actually, like, while that's a controversial provision, you just talked about, one of the provisions seems to have wide backing is the idea making the, the early ballots a different color. Putting them on a bright yellow or a bright green envelope, so that way people see them in the mail and they realize, this is an early ballot, and I need to pay attention to it so that way they don't get an early ballot and show up at their polling place having not cast the ballot, and therefore, have to cast a provisional.

Ted Simons: And we should mention another one, you are no longer on the permanent, that word is catching some folks, it's a permanent early voter list, and if miss a couple of election cycles you are adios?

Jim Small: The idea would be to make sure people on that list, you know, again, it's the idea of trying to make sure the people on, on that list are voting early and aren't getting an early ballot and going to the polls and having to cast provisional ballots, which say, I think, the way it is set up, if there is two consecutive election cycles where you don't cast a ballot, the county recorder would send you letter that says we're going to take your name off the rolls unless you want to be kept on this early ballot list, then go ahead, you know, and send us this form back.

Ted Simons: Indeed, and third one, focuses on out of state, paid out of state circulators, all three of these things together, critics, I think, are saying that, that you are threatening the ability to vote. But, is there another criticism, the kind of thing that you think will pass the legislature and make it to the Governor's desk?

Jim Small: Some of it will but clearly Senator Reagan has been open to addressing some of these concerns, and, you know, all of these have gone through different iterations just to get through the Senate, and I imagine that, that there is going to be more changes made to them as they progress through. Although, it will be interesting to see what Governor Jan Brewer wants to do should the bills get to her desk or to the point that they are near her desk. She was the Secretary of State, so she has an understanding of the issues, you know, perhaps more so than, than certainly a lot of lawmakers than a lot of other people in the state.

Ted Simons: All right, very good. Jim, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

Jim Small: Thank you.

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