Friday, June 27, 2008

Oh, my, foiled by no Street Address - Where are these city officials?

(well, let's see if they can make it any harder for Native Americans to vote...*5 1/2 miles sw of Steamboat* is better than a P.O. Box?)

P.O. boxes problematic for rural voters
Native Americans foiled by lack of street address

Jun. 26, 2008 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

When is your address not your address? In the area of election law, it's when you use a post-office box number.

Three Native American legislative candidates are the subject of challenges to the signatures they gathered to qualify for the Sept. 2 primary-election ballot. Among the issues being cited for tossing their nominating petitions is the fact that some of the signers used P.O. box numbers instead of an actual street address.

That interpretation of the law creates a barrier for rural voters, especially Native Americans who live on reservations, supporters of the three candidates said at a news conference Wednesday.

"The consequences of these lawsuits can be devastating," said Isidro Lopez, vice chairman of the Tohono O'odham Nation.

It could undermine any confidence Native Americans have in the electoral process, he said.

State Sen. Albert Hale's petition signatures are being challenged by Royce Jenkins, a resident of Kykotsmovi on the Hopi Reservation. Jenkins is the likely GOP nominee for state Senate in District 2, which is represented by Hale, D-Window Rock.

Mark Haughwout, a Flagstaff Democrat seeking a seat in the House of Representatives, is challenging the validity of the signatures on the petitions of two of his opponents: state Rep. Albert Tom, D-Chambers, and Christopher Clark Deschene of Window Rock.

The challengers say their opponents' petitions contain signatures of unregistered voters as well as P.O. box addresses that are not allowed by state law.

Earlier this week, the county elections officials who must validate petition signatures said that most of the petitions submitted by the three Native American candidates were invalid due to a variety of reasons, including the use of P.O. boxes.

But supporters of the three said it is unfair and shortsighted not to accept P.O. box numbers as addresses.

Many rural residents have only a P.O. box and lack a physical street address, supporters say. And the courts and county recorders, who have to validate petition signatures, have offered up a mixed record on whether the P.O. box numbers are permissible. (see what we have to put up with?)

Rep. Tom Chabin, the fourth Democrat in the District 2 House race, is not party to any of the challenges. But he's aware of the problems posed by the requirement that those voters who lack a street address must write in a physical description of their residence's location.

One resident of the Navajo Reservation indicated his address on a Chabin petition this way: "5 1/2 mi. s/w of Steamboat."

Others contend the space for writing in such descriptions is so small as to be unusable. And for many rural residents, the P.O. box is the way they identify their residence.

The matter will be decided in a pair of ballot-challenge lawsuits to be heard Friday in Maricopa County Superior Court.

Meanwhile, Maria Weeg, executive director of the state Democratic Party, said the party will pick up the legal fees for the three candidates.

"I am actually taking a position in a primary," she said.

But not because she's trying to show favor to specific candidates, she said. Rather, this is a matter of principle.

Chabin said he fully supports his party's backing his opponents.

"I encouraged the party to do it," he said. "Native American voters are important to the party."