February 25, 2019

Cutting Voters Off at the Pass

The Townsend Acts will keep Arizonans from the polls

by Susan E. Stutz

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Across the country, the 2018 midterm elections brought record setting numbers of voters to the polls with turnout exceeding that of past presidential elections. In a study done by the United States Election Project , voter turnout was the highest it has been in fifty years with a national average of 47% of eligible voters casting a ballot. That is more than 110,000,000 votes cast making the 2018 midterms the first midterm cycle to ever exceed 100,000,000 votes. Impressive! There were a few states however, that left the national average in their dust. Arizona is one such state.

The Good

Arizona played host to one of the country’s most closely watched races: that of retiring Republican Senator Jeff Flake’s empty seat which was won by Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. Historically, at a national and local level, Arizona politics have been largely dominated by Republicans. If voter engagement for 2018 is any indicator, that may change as Arizona saw 65% of its eligible voters show up at the polls in November. That is 18% higher than the national average. Not too shabby.

The Bad

Along with record-setting voter turnout comes numerous claims of voter fraud. One such claim was made by Kelly Townsend (R, District 16) who was elected to her fourth term in November. According to Ms. Townsend, who heads the Arizona House Elections Committee, voter registration drives have become incentivized as a result of paying collectors on a per application basis. In response to this issue, Representative Townsend introduced HB 2616 that would make it a misdemeanor for an individual to be paid to register people to vote.

In a committee hearing held February 19, Representative Townsend called upon Yuma County Recorder, Robyn Stallworth Pouquette, to offer testimony as to her staff’s experience with voter fraud during the 2018 election. According to Ms. Pouquette, her office received many incomplete and duplicative applications which caused her small staff to spend considerable time reviewing them to insure they were completed correctly, that a particular voter was not registered twice, and that a voter’s party preference was clearly indicated. When errors were found, Ms. Pouquette’s staff would reach out to the voter to discuss whatever steps needed to be taken to correct their application or voting status. It is Representative Townsend’s contention that these problems are caused by the act of paying a person to obtain applications.

The Ugly

Representative Townsend’s proposed bill would prohibit individuals from paid work at voter registration drives. People who count on this type of work for primary or supplemental income would face criminal charges that are on par with those for domestic violence and DUI.

Furthermore, it may be yet one more barrier to civic engagement. For those who are homebound, work more than one job, or otherwise lack access to traditional resources, a knock on the door by a paid registrar or volunteer may be their only opportunity to participate in local and national politics. Without professional outreach, many Arizonans will never learn about absentee and/or early voting programs that can help them vote.

What You Can Do

Critics charge that this bill should be withdrawn because if we do away with paid drives, for what amounts to a very low percentage of fraudulent voter applications — certainly less than is needed to sway an election — the result will be fewer eligible voters added to the rolls each year. Fewer eligible voters means fewer people actively participating in the events that govern their lives.

Representative Townsend has stated that she is open to the possibility of amending her bill to require that registrars receive an hourly rate rather than being paid per-application as they are now.

If you live in District 16, send STATE to Resistbot and encourage Representative Townsend to withdraw her bill. If withdrawal is not on the table then she should amend it so as not to cut off this resource for new voters. If you live elsewhere, write to your Representative and encourage them to support amending Representative Townsend’s bill. And, as always, you can write to Congress about this or any other topic by sending the word Resist to Resistbot on Facebook Messenger, Telegram, or as a Twitter direct message. If none of those work for you, Resistbot also supports old fashioned SMS: text RESIST to 50409 to get started. It takes 2 minutes to speak out.

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