ARIZONA—Today, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and the ACLU of Arizona filed a lawsuit seeking transparency about the extent to which county officials in Apache County, Arizona, denied pre-trial detainees and individuals serving misdemeanor sentences the right to vote in the 2020 elections.
Over the last nine months, Apache County has ignored six public records requests seeking information that, by law, should be made available to the public. Apache County, however, is far from alone in failing to live up to its legal obligations to be transparent and accountable to the public.
CLC, as part of the Arizona Coalition to End Jail Based Disenfranchisement, has sent a total of 90 records requests to understand how many people in Arizona jails were being denied their constitutional right to vote across Arizona. As of today, 49 requests remain unanswered. Apache County is the only county that didn’t respond at all, violating Arizona public record law. They must explain the procedures that its recorder and sheriff follow to ensure that they are protecting the right of all citizens to vote.
Each night, more than 14,000 people are detained in county jails across Arizona. An estimated 60%, or 8,400, of those people are eligible to vote. People convicted of felonies lose their right to vote, but those who are held in pre-trial detention or are serving misdemeanor sentences retain their voting eligibility.
“Arizona is shielding the public from the full scope of its practice of disenfranchising people in the criminal justice system, a practice that hurts low-income people and people of color the most,” said Dana Paikowsky, Equal Justice Works fellow at CLC. “Citizens who are eligible to vote should never be denied their most fundamental right. Transparency is urgently needed to conduct public oversight so that Arizona can begin fixing its broken system.”
“Voting is a constitutional right that is not taken away when someone is jailed,” said Jared Keenan, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Arizona. “Government agencies have a responsibility to ensure people’s right to vote is protected even when they’ve been accused of a crime. We are demanding these public records to hold all Arizona counties accountable to that responsibility.”
“All eligible Arizona voters, including those in jail, should be able to cast a ballot that counts.” said Alex Gulotta, Arizona state director at All Voting Is Local, a member of the Arizona Coalition to End Jail Based Disenfranchisement. “The public deserves to know if the right to vote is being upheld by Apache County. Any effort to obscure or deny transparency is a threat to democracy for all Arizonans.”
According to a report released by the coalition in July 2020, only seven incarcerated voters cast a ballot in Arizona’s March presidential primary out of an estimated 2,700 eligible incarcerated voters.