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What the Devil won't tell you

Runaway torpedo: Who will be hit by Arizona's new 'citizen voter' law remains unknown

The Arizona House of Representatives passed a bill this week to basically purge anyone from the voter rolls who has registered to vote in federal elections only, unless they can document their citizenship to the GOP's satisfaction.

Yes, they already passed that law and Gov. Doug Ducey signed it, but the replacement law wouldn't take effect until after the 2022 midterm election cycle. The current version is set to go into effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session, so smack in the middle of this year's election.

And by the way, Monday is the registration deadline to vote in the city of Tucson's May transportation-tax election. Now is as good a time as any to make sure you're registered, before the new law is enforced.

Ducey signed the original version of the law a couple of weeks ago when he put his signature on a bunch of nasty legislation on the same day. He was hoping to flood the zone and reduce the amount of negative coverage. I'm stretching my pieces out to take them on one at a time. The GOP continues its obsession with "Dog Ate My Homework" legislation.

Republicans might call these "voter integrity" or "election integrity" laws, but the lie they keep telling themselves is that they lost the 2020 presidential election because of "voter fraud."

They lost the 2020 election because the party's standard-bearer spent four years poking swing voters in the eyes with a stick and ignited a massive popular backlash.

Donald Trump has never admitted or conceded a single mistake, error or defeat in his life and he wasn't going to start in November 2020. So he launched a violent attack against the peaceful transition of power.

But if he says it was "voter fraud," right-wing media was going to say it was "voter fraud" and radical-right politicians must pass "anti-voter fraud" legislation.

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So to solve for "Conspiracy Theory X," Rep. Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek) wrote himself a piece of legislation. Right now the vast, vast, vast majority of Arizona voters are registered at the state level, and to do so they have to present documented proof of U.S. citizenship. He says his bill won't affect them. About 31,000 voters are registered only to vote in federal elections (Congress and the presidency) and they follow federal law, which requires them to attest under penalty of perjury that they are citizens. That's his target, he says.

And there are a whole bunch of problems with what I just wrote and how it clashes with how things work in the real world. 

There's no consensus about who the law will actually affect, which is exactly what everyone should want (biting sarcasm) when the police powers of the state are being invoked.

It's like a traffic law that bans speeding but doesn't set a speed limit or requires motorists to stop at a traffic light but fails to specify whether red, yellow or green means "stop."

Hoffman and Republicans say the law will only affect 31,000 Arizonans who voted with "federal-only ballots." On the other hand, the counties told the Legislature that the law would affect just short of 200,000 people. One Democratic consultant says it's bigger than that. 

I say the law, at the end of the day, could effect millions in a less direct but equally consequential way.

What the law does... maybe ...

Columnist's note: When reading the following, disabuse yourself of the idea that the Legislature writes laws only after thorough vetting, deep analysis of facts, critical reasoning or even a basic understanding of cause and effect. Readers are going to want to think "well, they would have thought of that ..." Stop right there. No. No. Absolutely not. How things should work is not how things do work.

As passed by the Legislature and signed into law, HB 2492 says all Arizonans must show proof of citizenship to vote.

Now let's whittle down to what's new about that.

In 2004, voters approved Prop. 200, requiring proof of citizenship to vote in Arizona. A clause exempted those already registered.

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However, a 2013 court decision ruled that law does not apply to the small subset of Arizonans who cast "federal-only" ballots because they have "federal-only" registrations. Federal law does not allow a state to require documentary proof of citizenship to cast a ballot for a federal office. The state can't preempt federal law. That's unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded.

So that's how we get to 31,000. Hoffman has said those are the folks he's targeting. No one else has to worry about it.

But wait, the law says everyone in Arizona must show proof of citizenship. How that might be done leads to a larger number of voters who Hoffman will inadvertently target.

How does one go about proving they are a citizen? 

Another state law passed in 1996 required proof of citizenship for anyone who got a driver's license. Bingo. Show an Arizona's driver's license you are a U.S. citizen (yes, there is a problem with that).

But anyone who got a driver's license before 1996 and hasn't had to update it, technically hasn't proven their citizenship. A lot of those folks are part of the much larger set of voters who are registered to vote in all state elections.

So the Arizona Association of Counties puts the number of voters who could run into trouble with the law at closer to 192,000, based on Motor Vehicle Division data showing 192,000 drivers haven't updated their licenses since 1996.

And Sam Almy, a Democratic political data analyst out of Phoenix, has crunched the numbers and found 220,000 voters who could be affected.

Get this: 45 percent of them are registered Republicans and 36 percent are registered Democrats.

Yeah. What's that line in "Hunt for Red October"? "You idiot! You've killed us!"

The state Republican Party is firing so many torpedoes at the imaginary target of voter fraud, that the warheads are starting to lock on the GOP's own sub.

I should point out here that Tom Collins, executive director of the Arizona Clean Elections Commission, called the law "ambiguous," so those numbers could be wrong.

That's no better, because laws should not be ambiguous. They should be the opposite.

The knock-on

Why do I think the real number of people affected is probably closer to 1 million?

Because most voters — and especially those who are only now starting to vote — don't pay much attention to the particulars of politics.

All they'll hear is the news is in bits and pieces and draw their own ill-informed conclusions when informed conclusions are hard to come by. 

"I have to prove citizenship to vote? I don't know where my birth certificate is. I have to find it, you say, or I'm guilty of voter fraud? I hear you can do prison time for that. Screw it. I'll sit this out. It's not worth the hassle when the system is corrupt anyway."

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In Arizona more than 4 million voters cast ballots in 2020. If a quarter of them are that kind of "low-information" (busy, with other stuff to worry about) voters, then we are at 1 million.

Throw on top of those numbers, eligible voters (one study puts that number at just over 5 million) and the number grows.

By the way, the one felony in Arizona related to voter fraud is to vote twice. Just vote once and avoid jail time.

Confuse and conquer

The Legislature may have mangled this law, but the effect could be exactly what they want to achieve. 

Look, Hoffman has a history of this sort of thing. He owns a digital marketing firm called Rally Forge that paid workers to act like fake progressives and troll real progressives away from voting for Joe Biden. He's used a "confuse and conquer" approach in the past. 

He also seems to have committed actual election fraud.

Hoffman was one of 11 Republicans to pretend to be the real Electoral College members in Arizona and submit to Congress their ballots for Donald Trump.

But that's OK. It's his country and not yours. He does what he wants.

Only people who believe themselves to be the most true-blue, God-fearing Americans will feel themselves secure in casting a ballot. 

Those who are "democracy-curious" just decide it's not worth it.

The goal of laws like this is limit voting to the people found desirable by Republican lawmakers, i.e., loyal party-line Republicans. 

When voters fail to elect Republicans, those voters acted fraudulently, right?.

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The objective is to turn elections into rituals that affirm Republican rule and eliminate any consequences from Election Day. 

Your insistence

So far, the U.S. Supreme Court will not allow Republicans to pass laws limiting voting to just registered Republicans. So they are going to keep changing the laws until they find the right mixture of rules and restrictions to produce the only legitimate outcome: They always win, no matter the will of the people they claim to serve.

The only caveat to my conclusion is acknowledging I may be projecting latent progressive tendencies on this version of the GOP. Progressives search for answers. The modern Right looks for perpetual outrages to stir the GOP base. In which case, the outcome is to just make a mess of things so people don't want to take part.

Republicans over the long term are more reliable voters than Democrats. Confusion will depress Democrats or Dem-leaning independents turnout so long as they take a "meh" attitude toward casting ballots.

If Democrats allow that to happen, that is.

It's real simple. If all the voters who turned out in 2020 go back to the polls in 2022, Republicans will almost certainly lose control of the state of Arizona.

Nothing Republicans have passed into law will actually prevent Democrats from voting. The nearest analogy I can come up with is if Republicans only had to pass the written test to get a driver's license, and Democrats had to do that and pass the road test.

The rules are unfair but nothing would be stopping Democrats from getting a license, in that "what-if?"

Well, the same goes for real-world voting. Republicans in the Legislature may make it harder and more confusing, but the solution is for Democrats to still show up and vote the Republican majorities out.

Punish them for neo-fascist attempts to remove the consent of the governed from the act of governing. Make them go back to providing solutions to problems or strategies to address actual crises.

Force the Republicans to compete, and jettison these threats to democracy from their agenda. That's still in voters' hands.

Voters who don't like what Republicans are doing shouldn't decide to stay home because they are confused or concerned.

Don't just get mad. Vote. The Legislature will only feel empowered to act like this if voters decide to stay home because they are frustrated by failures in Washington to address issues like climate change, income inequality or voting rights.

It's those who the Legislature doesn't want to vote, who most need to vote.

It's not enough to prefer democracy. We must insist on it.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

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Confusion is the point in Arizona's proof-of-citizenship law that may end up hitting Republicans harder than Democrats.


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