The Arizona Secretary of State has accepted petitions, supposedly signed by over 190,000 voters, to place a right-wing initiative on the November ballot. The proposition uses racism and immigrant bashing in an attempt to restrict the right to vote and to divide the working class. A court challenge to the proposition, cynically misnamed the “Arizona Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act,” or PAN, is expected. A similar proposal was enacted in California a few years ago and declared unconstitutional by federal courts.
A wide cross-section of Arizona is speaking out against PAN. The measure is so blatantly reactionary that even conservative elements like Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano and Republican U.S. Senators McCain and Kyl have been compelled to publicly oppose it.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) summed up the Act well at an anti-PAN press conference: “This (PAN) is motivated by hate. Immigrants are not the root cause of why our country went to war, why millions are denied medical coverage, why too many remain unemployed or why we face so many other problems. This initiative is a mean- spirited effort to deny people their civil and human rights.” Grijalva promised an aggressive campaign to defeat PAN if it makes it on the November ballot.
The main provisions of the proposed initiative would change Arizona law as follows: (1) Registering to vote would require evidence of U.S. citizenship, (2) The County Recorder’s office would have to spend time and money processing these documents and storing them for two years following registration, (3) Every voter would be required to show picture ID or two forms of identification before being allowed to vote, (4) All state, county, city, and public school employees would be required to refuse services to any person who cannot prove their citizenship, or legal residency, and to become snitches and law enforcers of this new law under penalty of law, and (5) Any Arizona resident could bring suit against any violation of this law and such suit would take precedence over any civil actions pending in court.
The first three points are, clearly, an attack on everyone’s right to vote. PAN would make it nearly impossible to register new voters on street corners, at county fairs, or at union gatherings. Even door-to-door political campaigners would not be able to register new voters. Each registrant would need a photocopy of a document proving citizenship, but campaign workers cannot carry a copy machine on their backs. Nor do potential voters carry their birth certificate in their pockets. This requirement would severely lower the already low voter registration in Arizona. Elderly, disabled, and rural citizens would have a particularly difficult time getting photocopies of documents to mail in.
The requirement for identification at the polls is another attempt to lower voter turnout. Every voter is already required to sign-in when they vote. That is how Arizona has regulated elections to prevent fraud. It has worked fine. Accusations of fraudulent voting have been almost nonexistent in our state. So why create an expensive and cumbersome bureaucracy when the system is not broken? Moreover, this requirement is a reminder of the ugly past when right-wing, racist forces intimidated Mexican American voters at polling places by questioning their citizenship.
The proposal to turn every government worker into a cop or a snitch is an all-out attack on already overstressed government services. If implemented, it would create such a red-tape quagmire that services to all would be disrupted. Arizonans are asking, “Are we really worried about an undocumented immigrant child using the neighborhood library? Who is going to pay for all the specialized training and police work required by state and local agencies? Do we need to burden Arizona taxpayers with the millions it would cost to defend another unconstitutional, racist law?”
The immigrant bashing behind the PAN initiative is based on the lie that immigrants add to the taxpayers’ burden. All studies have shown that immigrants pay much more in taxes than they receive in social services. Undocumented immigrants usually pay taxes at higher rates than other residents, and are eligible for very few, if any, public services. Most immigrants to our country, whether documented or not, are here because they want to work and support their families.
The coalition working to increase the number of citizens who vote is saying “No” to this reactionary initiative. They want Arizona to join the seven states that allow same-day registration for elections, instead of initiatives that lead back to the days of Jim Crow.
Joe Bernick is director of the Salt of the Earth Labor College in Tucson, Ariz. He can be reached at email@example.com.