In a political landscape dotted with super PACs funded by dark money, populated with paid lobbyists, some regular folk may feel they have no voice.
But thanks to a state-funded feedback tool and the work of some local volunteers, more and more voters are learning how to speak up about bills currently under consideration at the Arizona Legislature.
The web-based application, called the Request to Speak program, provides an online portal, where voters can look up the status of any current piece of legislation and view upcoming committee agendas.
Participants can take a position — for, against or neutral — and make comments about a bill, according to information at the Legislature’s website, azleg.gov.
“The Request to Speak program is designed to allow the public to register an opinion on bills listed on agendas and to request to speak on a bill in a committee. It replaces the old slips of paper previously used to sign in and let the committee chairperson know you want to speak to the committee,” the RTS users’ manual states.
The comments become part of the public record, archived with the bills, and have potential to influence legislator’s decisions, just like the old system of in-person public speaking.
“When the committee is in session, the committee members and the public will see a list of names of people who have registered an opinion … and comments you may leave in the comment box. This information is also available if a person searches past committee agendas. Legislators will see your bill position throughout the process,” the manual states.
But though the system may be accessed from anywhere once signed up, users must register in person initially via computer terminal only available at the Capitol, explained Melinda Iyer, who works with Civic Engagement Beyond Voting, an group of women volunteers who promote the online tool across Arizona.
“Anyone can make their opinion heard on a bill,” she said. “You just sign up at a kiosk at the Capitol to activate your account. But that’s hard for some people to get downtown to do that. So, we have a team of runners that will do it for you.”
Anyone can request this assistance at the group’s website, cebv.us. So far, CEBV volunteers have signed up more than 3,000 users, Ms. Iyer said.
However, some who sign up find the system confusing or difficult to use. For this reason, the group provides free advice and training at events called Office Hours, which are offered at locations around the state, she said.
“These office hours are modeled after the office hours that you might find with a college professor,” Ms. Iyer said. “You can drop in any time during the window to receive help on using this state-run system to make your voice heard at the Legislature.”
The group will host Office Hours next 3-4:40 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23 at Panera Bread, 13959 W. Bell Road, Surprise. Similar events are planned in Phoenix, Tucson, Scottsdale and Mesa.
She said the in-person training helps, but some people can’t make it — for them, CEBV offers online training, too.
“We have events run by volunteers all over the state and then we also have online webinars, because it’s a big state and it’s hard to get everywhere, so we do also have the online option,” Ms. Iyer said.
To help track bills during the legislative session, CEBV also publishes a weekly update at their website, which gives details about important measures along with recommendations.
Though associated with and advocating for some progressive groups and causes, Ms. Iyer said her group is not partisan, but remains dedicated to promoting voting and civic engagement across all parties.
“We are affiliated with Indivisible. We are the only Indivisible group in Arizona that’s focused 100% on the state Legislature,” she said. “We are nonpartisan … I have opposed both Democrats and Republicans. I wouldn’t say that we skew Left or Right; I would say that we skew populist.”
Another group of women volunteers has been advocating for voters’ rights for the past century.
The League of Women’s Voters is celebrating is 100th year this month. To honor the anniversary, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors kicked off their Feb. 11 formal meeting with a proclamation declaring Feb. 14 as League of Women Voters Day.
“… the league has sponsored legislation and fought to protect and strengthen voting rights and access, as well as free and fair elections, and … the league has consistently been noted for nonpartisan election information, sponsorship of candidate forums and their commitment to register, educate and mobilize voters,” the proclamation reads, in part.
Founded in 1920 with the merger of the National Council of Women Voters and the National American Suffrage Association, the nonpartisan group was created to empower women to exercise the right to vote.
That right was permanently established six months later with the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote for the first time, at least nationally.
A century later, the League of Women Voters of Maricopa County carries on the group’s mission locally with efforts to register voters for the upcoming election in collaboration with county officials.
The women will host a free deputy registrar training 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 17540 Avenue of the Arts, Surprise.
A representative from the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office will present information about the rules and regulations for voting in Arizona, including a Q&A session.
Participants who complete an optional quiz can earn certification as a deputy registrar for county elections.