Voting Rights Act's reviews didn't apply to AZ until '75

2013-06-26T00:00:00Z Voting Rights Act's reviews didn't apply to AZ until '75Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
June 26, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - Arizona was not always subject to the preclearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act.

The original 1965 federal law covered states with barriers such as literacy and knowledge tests and "good moral character" requirements. While Arizona was not originally covered, the law did take effect in Apache County and, several months later, Navajo and Coconino counties.

That was because they all administered literacy tests before allowing a person to vote under a state law requiring proof someone could read the U.S. Constitution in English. Most voters in each of those counties were Native American.

In 1975 the entire state came under the act when Congress expanded the definition of a voting "test" to include jurisdictions that provided English-only voting materials in places where more than 5 percent of voting-age citizens spoke a single language other than English. Although Arizona had already amended its law in 1974 to require bilingual ballots where necessary, the federal law was retroactive to 1972.

As a result of the preclearance requirement, decennial redistricting maps submitted to the Department of Justice in the 1980s, 1990s and 2002 had to be redrawn after being rejected.

But not just redistricting is at issue.

Jim Drake, the deputy secretary of state, said the Department of Justice questioned a 2011 law that required election officials to get photo identification from anyone who delivered more than 10 early ballots to a polling place. Drake said that was withdrawn from consideration and eventually repealed after the federal agency raised questions.

The newer version of the law passed this year restricts who can take an early ballot to the polls but has no numerical restrictions.

Drake also said the Attorney General's Office withdrew another change in law that limited who could assist voters at the polls after the Department of Justice raised questions.

While it has nothing to do with the formula set up by Congress in 1965 that the Supreme Court voided in its ruling Tuesday, allegations of voting discrimination in Arizona gained national attention in 1971, during confirmation hearings for Arizonan William Rehnquist to be a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Some federal lawmakers raised allegations of practices by members of the Arizona Republican Party in the 1960s, including Rehnquist, designed to harass black and Hispanic voters by challenging minority voters at polling places. The issues were raised again years later when he was nominated and eventually confirmed as chief justice.

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