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Voter advocacy groups rally against GOP election bills

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PHOENIX – April Valle said she didn’t know much about politics when she reached voting age a year ago.

But after volunteering to register Latino voters for the 2012 election with Promise Arizona, Valle said she found her voice and began to share it with her community. She even took her 67-year-old grandmother to cast a ballot for the first time.

“I tell my community, ‘Let your beliefs be said, or the legislators will make those choices for you,’” Valle said. “My voice will be heard and my community’s voice will be heard.”

Valle joined volunteers with other voting rights groups who rallied Thursday at the State Capitol, declaring Arizona Voting Rights Protection Day and registering their objections to two Republican election bills.

One measure would allow counties to remove people from early ballot lists if they fail to vote in two consecutive election cycles. The other would require a signed statement for a person to deliver another voter’s early ballot to a polling place and would carry a felony charge for a violation.

The measures, sponsored by Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, are a response to a surge in provisional ballots cast in the November general election.

Representatives of groups including Mi Familia Arizona, Promise Arizona, Arizona Center for Empowerment and Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy said they met with lawmakers to lobby against the bills.

Rep. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, said Reagan’s bills could send a discouraging message to Latino voters.

“With the influx of Latino votes cast in this last election, all the bills being brought forth about election laws make it kind of thrown in our face,” he said. “Why all of the sudden are we having this influx of these bills? The only thing you can relate it to is what has happened this past election.”

Cristian Avila, who has volunteered with Mi Familia Vota since 2006, said the Latino community’s youth are “waking up,” as shown by their power in the 2012 election.

“Since 2006, the conversation has changed from ‘what we voted for is not going to count’ to ‘my ballot’s here, what do I have to do now?’” he said.

Avila said he is worried the election legislation would set back groups such as Mi Familia Vota, which knocked on doors from Chandler to Avondale to register around 4,700 voters for the 2012 election and help cast their ballots.

“Instead of addressing our fast-growing community, they are trying to suppress our ability to vote,” Avila said. “I feel like I’m doing a service to my community – does it make me a felon to help make their voice be heard?”

Yaraneth Marin, a 17-year-old volunteer with One Arizona, an umbrella organization for the groups, said the drive to boost Latino voting power will continue if Reagan’s bills become law.

“The Constitution states for the people, by the people,” Marin said. “We are the people.”