CLC, in partnership with the ACLU-Arizona, is suing the sheriff and recorder in Apache County, Arizona seeking transparency about how the county guarantees incarcerated citizens their constitutional right to vote.
While people who are convicted of felonies in Arizona lose their right to vote, those who are held in pre-trial detention or who are incarcerated for misdemeanors retain their voting eligibility. In practice, however, it can be incredibly difficult to cast a ballot in jail. Doing so depends on Arizona jail and election officials providing a means for incarcerated voters to cast their ballot.
To better understand how recorders and sheriffs in Arizona realize their obligation to enfranchise jailed voters, CLC is working on a statewide data collection project as a member of the Arizona Coalition to End Jail Based Disenfranchisement, which advocates to remove barriers to voter education and participation so that eligible individuals can be included in the process.
The coalition sent three records requests each to the recorders and sheriffs in all of Arizona’s 15 counties: one request following the March 2020 Presidential Preference Election; one following the August 2020 Primary Election; and one following the November 2020 General Election. In total, we sent 90 records requests to Arizona officials.
The overall response rate was abysmal: of 90 requests, 48 remain unfulfilled as of January 2021. That includes 16 requests that were sent in March 2020, meaning that they have gone unanswered for 10 months.
Arizona’s public record law requires the government to “promptly” disclose public records. The sheriff and recorder of Apache County—the worst culprits among many Arizona elected officials—have failed to meet that obligation. Thus, in January 2021, CLC and ACLU-AZ filed suit against these offices for their failure to provide the records CLC requested—much less deliver them “promptly”—or even any explanation for why the records are being withheld.
Transparency is one of the key components of a representative democracy, particularly when it comes to the protection of the constitutional rights held by its citizens. Without any information from county sheriffs or recorders, it is virtually impossible to determine whether incarcerated voters are being allowed to exercise their most fundamental right, the right to vote. This issue demands public oversight, as Apache County’s elected officials have evaded accountability for too long. CLC’s lawsuit demands that these offices provide the records needed to hold elected officials responsible and guarantee the rights of all citizens.