Arizona’s Citizens Clean Elections Commission

First Native to Chair Arizona’s Citizens Clean Elections Commission

Steven M. Titla pledges increased outreach to tribes

Steven M. Titla, San Carlos Apache, was selected as the chairman of Arizona’s Citizens Clean Elections Commission on January 19. Titla’s selection is notable in that it’s the first time a Native American has held the position.

The commission, established by a voter initiative in 1998, provides public funding for candidates who meet qualifications including collecting a certain number of $5 contributions and swearing to forgo political action committee or corporation campaign contributions. The commission is also charged with providing voter education and outreach. The Citizens Clean Elections Commission is made up of two Republicans, two Democrats and one independent.

Titla, an attorney with Titla & Parsi, a law firm which has represented several tribes including the San Carlos Apache Tribe, has set some ambitious goals for his one-year term. “I would like for Native Americans to be as involved in state elections as they are in tribal elections,” he says. “I have encouraged the staff to reach out to tribal communities to the four corners of the state and ensure that we provide voter education.” Citizens Clean Elections Commission personnel have engaged in activities as varied as having a booth at the Navajo Nation Fair to producing radio PSAs for the Tohono O’odham Nation, he says.

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In addition to continuing and expanding voter education for rural Arizonans, “I would like to see more Native Americans participate in local, state and national elections,” Titla says. Tribal members in remote communities, who have reported to Native voting rights workers that they don’t trust voting by mail, can benefit from learning more about how they can verify that their vote was counted, Titla notes.

Another issue in Arizona tribal communities that Titla plans to speak to is polling places and dates. “We see that county polling places are in a different location than the tribal polling place,” he says. Also, tribal elections in many communities are scheduled on different days as non-tribal elections, which as Titla notes, tends to reduce the tribal vote.

The Citizens Clean Elections Commission plans to continue partnering with local officials. This summer, the Citizen Clean Elections Commission will hold roundtable discussions with county recorders to identify areas where the commission and counties can work together to increase voter participation, including outreach and education on voting rights. “We have a good relationship with the counties and we’re working with them,” Titla says. “Their input is critical in shaping our voter education program. The more we work with them in partnership, the more effective we feel our outreach will be.”

Over the past year, relations between county election offices and the state election office have deteriorated to the point where, in late January, all 15 recorders signed a joint letter to Arizona Secretary of State Michelle Reagan to express their concern over what they call neglect and even verbal abuse from Arizona Election Director Eric Spencer, including arbitrary demands to remove voters from county rolls. Spencer denies the allegations. Titla emphasizes that his commission’s aim is to educate voters and encourage greater participation in the political process, and says that the Citizens Clean Elections Commission has a good working relationship with the Secretary of State’s office.

Titla, a Democrat from Gila County, is admitted to practice law in both Arizona and on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. He has a long history representing various tribes, including tribal-state gaming compact negotiations. Titla is also a veteran, serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and the Arizona National Guard.

“I’d like to encourage more voter participation from all voters in Arizona, including Natives,” says Titla. “The more people can be involved in the political system, the more faith they will have in the system, so we can have a fair representation of Natives in the legislature.”

To learn more about the Arizona’s Citizens Clean Elections Commission, visit www.azcleanelections.gov.

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