Tom Horne left a lot out of the Arizona Voting Rights Act story

05 Mar 2013 05:13 pm
Posted by: Donna

Big tip o’ the hat to my bestest commenter Timmy’s Cat for linking to this USC Review of Law and Social Justice article: “Voting Rights in Arizona: 1982–2006.” The article outlines Arizona’s sordid history of voter suppression, which led to our being subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. It was not, as Attorney General Tom Horne griped in a recent op-ed, due merely to Arizona being two years late with bilingual ballots.

According to historian David Berman, the literacy test was enacted “to limit ‘the ignorant Mexican vote’ . . . . As recently as the 1960s, registrars applied the test to reduce the ability of blacks, Indians and Hispanics to
register to vote.”21 Berman explained, “Anglos sometimes challenged minorities at the polls and asked them to read and explain ‘literacy’ cards. Intimidators hoped to discourage minorities from standing in line to vote.”22

…In Oregon v. Mitchell, 28 the U.S. Supreme Court considered a challenge to several provisions of the Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1970, including the nationwide ban on literacy tests in any federal, state or local election. Arizona maintained that the ban could not be enforced to the extent that it was inconsistent with the State’s literacy test requirement.29 The Supreme Court rejected Arizona’s argument and held that the ban was constitutional under the Enforcement Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and that it superseded the Arizona statute under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.30 The Court also noted that Congress enacted Title II in order to ban literacy tests that were used to discriminate against voters on account of their race.31 Overwhelming evidence showed that the Voting
Rights Act’s ban on tests or devices had a remarkable impact on minority registration.32 Additionally, evidence showed that voter registration and participation were consistently greater in states without literacy tests.33…

…In effect, the Court’s decision showed that American citizens could be informed in their own native language and responsibly and knowledgably cast a ballot. However, Arizona did not repeal its English literacy test until
1972, two years after Mitchell was decided.

The article outlines the many ways that Indian and Hispanic residents of Arizona were discriminated against and denied educational and economic opportunities and how that played into the decision to give their voting rights federal protection. But even with those federal protections, minority voters continued to have their rights attacked.

Nevertheless, Arizona still has a long way to go. More than 80% of Arizona’s twenty-two Section 5 objections have occurred for voting changes enacted since 1982.71 Four post-1982 objections have been for statewide redistricting plans, including one in the 1980s,72 two in the 1990s73 and one as recently as 2002.74 Since 1982, the Department of Justice has interposed objections to voting changes from nearly half of Arizona’s fifteen counties that have had the purpose or effect of discriminating against Latino or American Indian voters.75

…Other barriers to voting persist for American Indians. Polling places and registration sites can be difficult for some voters to travel to because of the great distances, compounded by lack of transportation.80 Disparate education opportunities for American Indians enrolled in BIA schools81 and the failure of the state to adequately address the needs of ELLs in the public schools82 have also led to high illiteracy rates.83 Socio-economic barriers have heightened the crippling effect of illiteracy,84 resulting in voter registration and turnout rates that continue to lag far behind nonHispanic, white voters

…In December 2005, Arizona was cited for contempt by a federal court for failing to provide adequate English language instruction to the 175,000 LEP students enrolled in its ELL programs in the public schools.86 The problem has worsened since Arizona’s passage of a ban on bilingual education in 2000.87 According to some estimates, Arizona has under-funded ELL education by as much as 90% for decades, resulting in tens of thousands of voting-age citizens who are LEP and illiterate.88 Language barriers also remain in place because of lengthy waiting periods for ESL and
adult ELL programs.89

Republic columnist Robert Robb makes an appearance.

On July 27, 2006, President Bush signed the VRA reauthorization bill into law, extending the temporary provisions—including Sections 5 and 203—for another twenty-five years.464 Two weeks later, Arizona Republic columnist Robert Robb published a scathing editorial of the renewed Act entitled The Racism in Voting Rights. 465 According to Robb, the bill should have been defeated because he claimed that the Act provides “that race should be the primary consideration in political representation” through Section 5 preclearance.466 He likewise attacked Section 203, arguing that “the bilingual ballot requirement” was unnecessary because “naturalized citizens are supposed to demonstrate English literacy and native born Latinos, even those with parents who don’t speak English, are almost universally English-capable.”467 Robb was particularly critical of the VRA’s continued application to Arizona, which he contended did not have “a history of voting discrimination”.

Oh really, Bob?

The evidence of Arizona’s past and present history of discrimination against racial and language minority voters, as described in this article, conclusively refutes Robb’s thesis.469 The 1975 addition of Arizona to obtain pre-approval of voting changes from the Department of Justice was well founded. Arizona has a lengthy history of voting discrimination that included the enactment of an English literacy test to suppress the vote of African-Americans, Native and Americans and Latinos. Native Americans were officially disenfranchised until 1948. That discrimination is not ancient history. Arizona’s past four statewide redistricting plans have been rejected by the Department of Justice for discriminating against Latino and Native American voters.470 The most recent rejection occurred in 2002, under the Bush Administration.471 Over 80% of the Justice Department’s objections to Arizona’s voting changes have been since 1982.4

Needless to say, the article concluded in 2006 that we still need the Section 5 protection. It’s still true now.


  1. Comment by Tmmys Cat on March 6, 2013 3:13 pm

    Thank you {{{{{{{blush}}}}}}

    What caught my attention is that while minority voting rights are under attack, the one minority that never seems to come up is the Native American vote. It was a blind spot for myself as well. AZ has a very poor record of protecting their voting rights, dating back to the first part of the last century.
    I think this a history that most Zonies really don’t know how bad it is/was and apparently the powers that be prefer it that way.

  2. Comment by Mike Slater on March 7, 2013 7:17 pm

    So why do the Democrats have a problem with showing ID at the voting place?

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