Sarah Garrecht Gassen: Voter suppression dressed up as legal opinion

2013-10-17T00:00:00Z 2014-02-07T13:16:27Z Sarah Garrecht Gassen: Voter suppression dressed up as legal opinionSarah Garrecht Gassen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Call it the Hassle Maxim:

If you can’t outright prevent someone from doing something you don’t want them to do, make it as difficult, uncomfortable and confusing as possible.

Think about cigarette taxes and no-smoking ordinances. The goal, clearly, is to make smoking expensive and inconvenient enough that people change their behavior. The Hassle Maxim is pretty straightforward in this situation — smoking causes cancer and respiratory illness, which are expensive to treat.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne is one of many Republican officials across the country employing the technique to do anything they can get away with to limit the number of people who are likely to vote for Democrats. Limit or eliminate early voting, add identification requirements to register to vote and at the polls, close polling sites, reduce the time allowed for people to vote — all techniques that make voting as inconvenient and messy as possible.

Horne always makes me think of Dean Vernon Wormer from “Animal House.” You may remember Dean Wormer’s trademark creation, Double Secret Probation, but I am thinking more of this quote: “The time has come for someone to put his foot down. And that foot is me.” Now Horne is doing his part to engage the Hassle Maxim.

Earlier this month he issued an opinion that Arizona’s county recorders must create two lists of registered voters — people who used the state form, which requires proof of U.S. citizenship, and people who used the federal form, which does not require proof of citizenship beyond a signed statement that you are a citizen.

Horne’s opinion is that Proposition 200, which Arizona voters passed in 2004 to prevent the phantom of voter fraud that was never proved to be happening, requires that a person must prove citizenship to register to vote. The state form requires this information; the federal form does not, although most people do fill out the areas for a driver’s license number or other information to confirm their citizenship.

So if you registered using the state form, you get to vote in local, state and federal elections. If you used the federal form, and didn’t provide a proof of citizenship — which is part of the form, but not required under federal law, then you can vote only in federal elections.

Secretary of State Ken Bennett, Arizona’s top elections official, couldn’t quite explain it coherently when asked about it on Bill Buckmaster’s radio show on Friday. (You can listen at www.buckmastershow.com)

Bennett, a Republican who is running for governor, was asked what I thought were simple questions — how to make sure you’re able to vote in November and when do the new Horne guidelines go into effect?

Bennett led listeners on quite a rhetorical whoop-de-do.

“I’m not even sure if Pima County and the local jurisdictions that are having elections may not even be implementing this bifurcation in an election as we speak because they probably weren’t even aware that this decision would come down from the Attorney General’s Office and so I don’t even know whether they are at the local level administering the election in two groups. Right now they may very well not be.”

Fortunately, Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez was listening and called in to the show. Yes, her office has been keeping track of which voters used the federal form and didn’t include proof of citizenship. They’ve been sent a letter asking for more information before the November local election, and the county is doing everything it can to avoid problems.

But Bennett and Rodriguez both offered reassurance by numbers — that the number of people who would be prevented from voting in some way because of the two-track system was small. Several thousand statewide, maybe, Bennett said, describing it as a “handful.”

Rodriguez said the number in Pima County was about 200 and that most of those situations have been resolved.

But if you are one of those few Arizonans affected, your numerical insignificance doesn’t make a difference. Your right to vote has been taken away. Your right to cast your ballot in an election that affects you and your community, that most essential pillar of our system of government, has been breached.

The relatively few numbers may be significant in a logistical sense. If you’re responsible for carrying out Horne’s directive, then the difference between 200 and 200,000 people to deal with is material.

Any time one American’s right to vote is impeded or denied, it is a blow that shouldn’t be allowed to go by unnoticed. The Hassle Maxim may be dressed up in fancy legal papers, or even codified into law, but that doesn’t make it any more justified.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen writes opinion for the Arizona Daily Star. Email her at sgassen@azstarnet.com and follow her on Facebook.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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