July 1, 2021: Today the United States Supreme Court ruled in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee that Arizona’s restrictive voting law did not violate Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Why does this matter?
The Supreme Court upheld a discriminatory voting law from Arizona, House Bill 2023, that may appear innocent on the surface, but is anything but. It is in clear violation of Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in the voting process.
For example, HB2023 prevents ballots cast in the incorrect precinct from being counted at all. While this may seem to have no racial bias, it actually does, since Black, Hispanic, and Native American voters are twice as likely to have their ballots tossed out as white voters. Additionally, some Arizona counties change as many as 40% of their polling places before elections, making it more confusing for voters to understand where they are actually supposed to vote.
HB2023 also dramatically narrows the scope of who can deliver mail ballots. Instead of allowing anyone to deliver mail ballots for voters, the law only allows family members, household members, or caregivers to do so. Again, while this may appear an innocent move, it is not. This is because Native Americans have traditionally relied on community-wide ballot collection efforts to ultimately cast mail ballots. They have done so because only 18% of Native Americans in rural Arizonan counties possess reliable access to mail service, while 86% of white residents possess reliable service. Many Native Americans in Arizona live 45 minutes to 2 hours away from reliable mail service. As a result, ballot collection within Native American communities, like the Navajo Nation, was a traditional practice to ensure that these voters could have their voices heard. At the same time, no voter fraud was ever proven to have occurred during this process.
These measures are in clear violation of the Voting Rights Act – a federal piece of legislation meant to safeguard voting rights across the country. Yet they will persist in Arizona, just as they will persist in Georgia, Montana, Florida, and many more states that implement restrictive voting measures in light of the 2020 elections.
With voting rights under attack nation-wide, Massachusetts must stand strong by making the voting process as accessible and inclusive as possible, especially for Black and brown, low-income, immigrant, and young voters. We must bring permanent mail-in voting, expanded early voting, and same day voter registration to Massachusetts by passing the VOTES Act. We must make public transit free on election day by passing the FARE Act. We must overcome the de facto disenfranchisement that eligible incarcerated voters currently face by passing serious jail-based voting reforms. And we must ensure that the legislative redistricting process is as empowering, inclusive, and accurate as possible.
All of these reforms are essential to ensuring that those traditionally left out of the electoral process are instead empowered by the electoral process. With these reforms, Massachusetts may not only solidify its support for expanding voting rights, but it may do right by its voters in Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Lowell, and so many other communities that have long gone underserved.