Voter Voices Silenced

One pattern that has emerged in Arizona has been a concerted and increased effort to silence the voices of voters. Whether through official legislation, litigation or organizational policies and procedures, opportunities for the citizens of Arizona to be heard regarding their priorities are under attack. 

Dozens of elections bills were proposed this year, many with an aim to make voting more difficult. Arizona’s early voting process and vote by mail are very popular and were utilized by nearly 90% of voters in 2020.  Despite that, or maybe because of it, several bills were introduced to add barriers to and even eliminate mail in ballots. These bills were introduced under the guise of preventing fraud even though no widespread voter fraud has been identified. Restrictions to voting tend to impact certain populations more than others and gives outsized power to those who aren’t required to jump through additional hoops to have their voices heard.  

Another way that voters have been silenced is via litigation. Arizona’s Constitution guarantees citizens the right to make or amend policy via ballot initiatives and referendums. In addition to several attempts by lawmakers in recent years to make the citizen process more difficult, this year lawmakers used the courts to overturn the will of voters. Prop 208, a citizen’s ballot initiative to increase education funding was overturned in a shocking and convoluted decision made by the Arizona Supreme Court. Then, just a few months later, they also overturned a citizen’s referendum to block a huge tax increase for only the wealthiest Arizonans. Both of these decisions will have long lasting implications for the referendum and ballot process in the state and serve only to make it more difficult for citizens to directly impact lawmaking.

Lawmakers even have the opportunity to hear directly from their constituents during the legislative session as bills are heard and debated but even those avenues are being shut down. Arizona has an online platform called Request to Speak (RTS) that anyone can use to register their support or opposition to proposed legislation. The system is outdated, requires citizens to “activate” their accounts in person in limited locations and often isn’t working properly.  During the Covid pandemic, the Legislature quickly pivoted to holding committee meetings and debates virtually. Citizens and lawmakers were allowed to testify via Zoom. This not only benefitted those who were at high risk from getting infected with Covid, but it also made it significantly easier for citizens from rural communities to participate.  But this session, legislative leaders refused to allow the technology to be used insisting on doing all business in person. We have the technology to make it significantly easier to hear from the people on issues being decided in the legislature, we just lack the will to make it happen. 

Together, these attacks on the voices of everyday voters in Arizona only serve to further consolidate power to a small number of individuals.