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Arizona and feds clash over voter registration

Arizona, already at odds with the federal government and civil-rights groups over immigration, is adding voter ID and the Voting Rights Act to the disputes.

Arizona's voter ID law, a portion of Proposition 200, was partially struck down in April by a federal appeals court that said the state can't require proof of citizenship for people who use a federal form to register to vote.

But the court said Arizona can continue to require proof of citizenship for those who register using a state form and the state can still require voters to show ID at the polls.

Federal voter registration forms, which must be accepted in all 50 states, were created as part of a 1993 federal law meant to make voter registration easier.

The federal motor voter law – so named because it allows registration upon renewing or applying for a driver's license – does not require applicants to prove citizenship. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that states can require proof of citizenship for their own registration forms, but not for federal forms.

Arizona is appealing the court ruling against its restrictive voter ID law, and the state plans to sue over the section of the Voting Rights Act that requires federal permission for any changes to state and local elections.

Arizona has asked the Supreme Court to allow the state to require citizenship proof on federal registration forms.

Don't ask, don't tell

Even though voters can choose between the state and federal forms – and avoid the proof-of-citizenship requirement by doing so – Arizona elections officials still can tell voters they must prove their citizenship, as long as they don't mention the federal forms.

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The Arizona Secretary of State's Office website still directs voters to prove citizenship, but does not notify voters they can register federal by using forms.

Tammy Patrick, a federal compliance officer at the Maricopa County Recorder's Office, said if a voter tries to register without proof of citizenship, an election officer is not obligated to inform them of the federal form option. However, if a voter asks specifically for that form, the officer is required to provide it.

"Any single voter that comes in that says, 'I want to register to vote but I want to use a federal form,' … will get a federal form, no questions asked," Patrick said.

The website advises, "If this is your first time registering to vote in Arizona or you have moved to another county in Arizona, your voter registration form must also include proof of citizenship or the form will be rejected."

Communications Director Matthew Roberts said he did not believe the secretary of state's website misleads voters by saying they must prove citizenship, because the website only addressed state registration forms, which still require proof.

Roberts also said he did not believe it was misleading for the website to only mention state registration forms. He said the court ruling was made recently and that the website's instructions were written when the law was passed in 2004. He said he did not know if the office would change the website.

"I don't see how people would be confused as to how to register," Roberts said. "It's relatively simple. I think there's more awareness of the state form simply because … various groups all use the state form."

'Solution in search of a problem'

Arizona's voter-ID law is one of 30 in effect across the country. All were passed by Republican legislatures except Democratic Rhode Island.

Supporters of ID laws say they prevent voter fraud, but civil-rights organizations say they disproportionately affect minority, poor, young and elderly voters who are likely to support Democrats.

Alessandra Soler, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Arizona, said the state's voter-ID law is the latest legislative effort to suppress minority turnout.

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"It is an additional barrier to keep eligible voters away from the polls," Soler said. "It is a solution in search of a problem."

Soler said minorities, including Latinos and Native Americans, often do not have a driver's license, which can be used as ID for voting, and cannot afford to get one.

Former state Senate President Russell Pearce, who wrote the law, did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

Arizona also is in the national debate over voting rights. Democrats say the increasing Latino population could put the state within reach for President Barack Obama in November, and that Arizona's voter ID and immigration laws motivate Latinos to vote.

"We have all the ingredients to make Arizona in play for Obama," said Luis Heredia, executive director of the state Democratic Party. "We have a sizeable amount of independent voters and an even more engaged Latino population."

Fighting federal 'micromanagement'

The state is suing the Department of Justice over Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires federal government permission to make any changes to state and local elections in certain states, including Arizona.

This preclearance gives the Justice Department the authority to block even minor changes, such as relocating a polling place.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said preclearance is an unnecessary burden on election officials.

"The federal government has no business trying to micromanage what we do," he said.

Horne opposes the preclearance requirement on the grounds that it should not have been applied to Arizona in the first place, and that there is no discrimination that warrants the requirement today.

"It's totally unjustified," Horne said. "I don't think anybody is trying to prevent anyone else from voting in 2012. They probably did in 1950 in the South, but in Arizona in 2012 no one is trying to prevent anyone else from voting."

Horne filed the lawsuit earlier this year, dropped it in April because of scheduling conflicts, but he said he plans to refile.

James Garcia, chairman of the Phoenix-based nonprofit advocacy organization Arizona Latino Research Enterprise, cites the state's voter ID law as proof that the state should not be let out from under the preclearance requirement.

"We are still at a place where the state of Arizona's institutions need to show and provide evidence that they are willing to treat people fairly and respect their voting rights," Garcia said.

Clint Bolick, vice president of litigation for the Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based conservative advocacy group, disagrees. Bolick, who is working with Horne on the lawsuit, said federal oversight of the state's elections was an excessive use of authority.

"(It is) outrageous that states remain supplicant to the federal government in terms of basic governmental decisions," Bolick said.

A 'critical tool' in protecting voting rights

The Supreme Court struck down most of the state's controversial immigration law in June, the Justice Department is suing Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio over allegations of racial profiling, and a recent state law forced a Tucson school district to end its Mexican-American studies program in January.

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Nine states and 66 counties in seven other states are required to seek federal permission on election changes and to prevent discrimination.

Other states that have argued against the preclearance requirement in the last three years include Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said publicly that the provision "continues to be a critical tool in the protection of voting rights."

Justice Department Press Assistant Mitchell Rivard said no department officials would comment on the lawsuit.

Jack Fitzpatrick and Khara Persad were Hearst Foundations Fellows this summer for News21.

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have your say   

3 comments on this story

Aug 14, 2012, 1:58 pm
-0 +0


Well, the DMV also issues ID only cards for non-drivers. I wonder if the same sort of price breaks exists for the ID only cards.

Any reasonable thinking person knows this whole thing is bullplop. I keep reading that there’s roughly 12 million border jumpers in our country here. Obama is doing everything he can to keep them here, and we’re just supposed to believe with that inexcusably large number here and lack of protections from doing so that none of them are voting? Seriously?

Who was it that stated that the masses would sooner fall for a big lie than a small one? Perhaps it’s that logic behind the constant reprint of this bullplop piece. (Yes, Sentinel, this is a reprint. This has been posted more than once before…different authors, different titles, but identical dishonest content)

Aug 14, 2012, 1:34 pm
-0 +0

The usual lie here: “The poor can’t afford to get a photo ID.”

From the AZ DMV website (emphasis added): “4.Pay the ID card application fee, currently $12, by cash or check. There is no fee for applicants aged 65 years and over, or for recipients of the federal supplemental security income disability payments.”

Perhaps they cannot afford a driver’s license - because they can’t afford the liability insurance? Are they driving around now without a license - and without insurance?

Aug 14, 2012, 12:03 pm
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I said it before, but I’ll repeat myself since this story repeated itself…

There is no legit reason why any citizen could not prove their citizenship.

How do you survive in the 21st century without proof of citizenship? No bank is going to open you an account or cash any check without you having ID. And, no government social program of any sort is going to give you anything but a check.

Am I really supposed to believe that there is this huge cache of minority, democrat voters who are living without ID of any kind, and apparently without government assistance of any kind?

Am I supposed to believe that any law created to protect our most precious, basic, fundamental right as US Citizens would really deny any legit voter the right to vote? And, isn’t this profiling, anyway? Anyone without ID must be minority and must be democrat, right? I mean…that’s what the story is telling me. So, that’s profiling, and profiling is bad I keep reading.

Oh, and by the way, as long as Raul Grijalva has his office I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever believe that voter fraud isn’t a game-changing problem. No electorate is that stupid, not even this one.

Instead of hitting the thumbs-down button, perhaps you reading this can do something more productive by explaining to me how it is possible for someone to exist in 21st century United States without government-issued identification. Because, I am legitimately not understanding this.

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Michael Ciaglo/News21

Volunteer Marissa Galindo will visit about 50 homes in an afternoon. The volunteers go to areas with high Latino populations that have low voter turnout.