2011 voter-war dispatch: Arizona court rebukes Guv Brewer

The latest dispatch from the frontlines of the voter wars crisscrossing the country this year comes from Phoenix. The Arizona supreme court ruled that political lightning-rod Governor Jan Brewer failed to justify ousting Colleen Mathis as chair of the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission. The court reinstated Matthis.

Brewer, acting in response to Tea Party agitation and on behalf of Republican lawmakers dissatisfied with the redistricting plan drawn up by the commission, removed Matthis, claiming she had demonstrated “substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct in office or inability to discharge the duties of office.”

Twenty-one Senate Republicans backed Brewer to provide the two-thirds senate vote she needed to remake the five-member commission, which was created by voters to take the highly partisan, once-a-decade work of redistricting out of the hands of lawmakers. The commission consists of two Democrats, two Republicans and one independent. Matthis is the independent. According to the Arizona Republic, Brewer had targeted the two Democrats as well but could not secure the votes to remove them.

Similar wrangling in states over redistricting and voting laws has been a top political story this year.

After the midterm elections of 2010 swept Republican majorities into state houses across the country, decades of legislation meant to expand the franchise by flattening barriers to participation in elections ground to a halt. Laws raising hurdles to voter registration and ballot casting cropped up in states across the country, pushed by Republicans arguing the need to protect against voter fraud. The roughly 20 laws passed in state capitols this year would make it more difficult for more than 5 million eligible citizens to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

In Colorado, the election of 2010 delivered a split legislature, with Democrats running the Senate and Republicans running the House. To almost no one’s surprise, legislative redistricting efforts broke down among partisan bickering during last spring’s session. Republicans are now appealing a congressional redistricting map presented by a court. A judge also recently turned back as unacceptable state district reapportionment maps.

Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a longtime Republican partisan campaign finance and election law attorney who won office last year, has made national news by seeking the power to throw suspected undocumented citizens off the voter rolls and for attempting to prevent county clerks from mailing ballots to legally registered inactive voters.

He cited the need to combat fraud in both cases without ever presenting credible evidence that there was any fraud occurring in the state.