Spanish-speakers in Arizona’s most populous county have twice been given information from the elections department listing the wrong date to vote.
The mistakes come as polls show Latinos helping to tighten the race between Democrat Richard Carmona and six-term Republican Rep. Jeff Flake for the state’s open Senate seat and making the state competitive for President Barack Obama.
Information handed out with voter registration cards since July at the Maricopa County elections offices listed the correct date, Nov. 6, in English but had Nov. 8 in the Spanish translation, according to Yvonne Reed, spokeswoman for the office. Thousands of bookmarks distributed by the office since January also made the same error on the Spanish side, she said.
Reed takes responsibility for the bookmarks and blames the error on poor proofreading, noting that Nov. 8 was the election date last year.
Democrats and Latino activists don’t buy that it is a coincidence.
“I think it is a concerted effort to suppress the Latino vote now that the Latino vote is starting to emerge,” said Randy Parraz, president of Citizens for a Better Arizona, a group working to register and mobilize Latino voters.
Parraz notes that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known internationally for his crime suppression sweeps in immigrant neighborhoods, is facing the toughest re-election of his 20-year political career. A recent poll commissioned by Democrat Paul Penzone, the challenger, shows him within five points of the incumbent.
“At a time when Carmona is running and Arpaio is about to be taken down, we see these mistakes happening,” Parraz said, noting that his group is calling for an investigation and considering a lawsuit. “It’s totally fishy.”
Hispanic voter registration has surged 51 percent in Arizona since 2008 amid frustration over the state’s hard-line immigration policies, including the 2010 law signed by Gov. Jan Brewer, according to the state Democratic Party. Latinos are also galvanized in opposition to Arpaio, who is facing a federal civil rights lawsuit.
Frank Camacho, spokesman for the Arizona Democratic Party, asks why the mistakes would happen before this year’s election, when things are looking up for Democrats in the state.
“We almost have a perfect storm brewing here — a Latino at the top of the ticket with Carmona and a good candidate to run against Joe Arpaio finally,” Camacho said in a phone interview. “There is a lot of enthusiasm and energy going into registering and making sure Latinos vote. Anything that could be detrimental to that effort is very disconcerting.”
A Rocky Mountain Poll by Phoenix-based Behavior Research Center earlier this month that included Spanish-speakers found Carmona leading Flake by four points, 44 to 40 percent among likely voters, and Obama up two points over Romney, by 44 to 42 percent. The margin of error was 4.4 percentage points. Both Carmona and Obama had large leads among the Latino voters surveyed.
Reed, of the election office, said her office is always concerned about voter confusion but she questions if there would have been the same hubbub if the error had been made in English. She estimates that a few dozen voters got the wrong information from the office and that about 2,000 bookmarks with the wrong date were distributed.
“The correct date is out there for anyone who might hear commercials from any candidate,” Reed said in a telephone interview. “What if the election date had been correct in Spanish and had been incorrect in English? Would we still have the same kind of concern? I put the question out there.”