PHOENIX -- A proposed overhaul of Arizona's early voting laws has been blasted by Latino youth who say the Republican-backed effort would suppress minority turnout just as more Hispanics are registering to vote.
Students on spring break hosted a rally at the Arizona Legislature on Thursday in opposition to two measures that would limit who gets to vote early and how mail ballots are returned to local election officials. They also met with more than 20 lawmakers, including House Speaker Andy Tobin.
Hispanics leaders, including Arizona Democratic lawmakers, said the election bills are aimed at silencing voters who tend to vote for Democrats. Republicans currently control Arizona's state government.
``We are not going away,'' said Daria Ovide, a Phoenix-based voting activist. ``We are going to be voting no matter what and we are going to remember who was helpful and who was not helpful.''
One proposed law would kick people off early voting lists if they didn't use a mail ballot during the past two federal elections. It would be retroactive to include the 2010 elections. People would be notified of their pending removal and would need to return that notice within 30 days to continue receiving early ballots. It also would make it harder for political groups to submit early ballot requests from voters.
Voters removed from the early voting list would remain registered to vote. Local election officials support the measure because voters who are sent mail ballots and then show up at polling places wanting to vote can create confusion and delays.
The other measure would allow only designated people to return the early ballots. Latino groups regularly collected early ballots from voters' homes and delivered them to elections officials in 2012.
Under the proposed law, a voter would need to declare on a ballot affidavit that their vote was sealed prior to giving it to a designated delivery person. The person returning the ballot must also declare on the ballot affidavit form that the vote was sealed. Both the voter and the person assisting must print and sign their name.
Voting advocates said they registered nearly 17,000 new Latino voters in 2012 based on a review of voters with Hispanic surnames. If the measures pass, the advocates say they will have to retrace their steps to make sure those voters can still receive mail ballots.
``We are fighting a war today, a war for democracy,'' said 16-year-old student Jenny Diaz at the rally.
The bills' sponsor, Republican Sen. Michele Reagan, has been receptive to complaints about her bills in recent weeks, welcoming amendments that have softened what were once much tougher measures aimed at reducing voter fraud and eliminating paperwork for understaffed election offices. Reagan and other Republicans have denounced complaints that the measures are anti-Latino.
But critics counter that Arizona Republicans have seen other Western states turn Democratic because of ballooning Latino voter populations and are trying to avoid the same fate.
The number of Latino voters on the state's early voting list more than doubled from 2008 to 2012, according to Mi Familia Vota, a Phoenix-based organization that helps register voters. Nearly 20 percent of Arizona voters are Latino, according to exit polls and Mi Familia Vota estimates.
Latino voters have a tense relationship with Arizona election law. Arizona's Proposition 200 passed in 2004 requires that prospective voters document their U.S. citizenship in order to use a registration form produced under the federal ``motor voter'' registration law. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said federal law, which doesn't require such documentation, trumps state law. Arizona appealed and the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case Monday.
Cristina Silva can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/cristymsilva