U.S. sues Arizona over proof of citizenship voting law

By: - July 5, 2022 5:01 pm

Ballot drop box in Maricopa County, Ariz. Courtesy of the Arizona Mirror

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division announced Tuesday that it has sued Arizona over a law signed by the state’s Republican governor in March that requires people registering to vote prove their citizenship to participate in a presidential election or to vote by mail in any federal election.

Republican proponents of the law, HB 2492, claim that requiring voters to provide a documentary proof of citizenship, like a birth certificate or passport, helps prevent voter fraud. But voting rights advocates say that non-citizen voting is extremely rare, and the law will disenfranchise citizens who will have to jump through additional hurdles to be eligible to vote.

“HB 2492’s onerous documentary proof of citizenship requirement for certain federal elections constitutes a textbook violation of the National Voter Registration Act,” in addition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a press call Tuesday.

The law is set to take effect in January, despite a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Arizona couldn’t require voters using the federal voter registration form to provide proof of citizenship. The high court did allow Arizona to continue allowing proof of citizenship for state elections.

Under the new law, the roughly 31,000 people in Arizona who are now federal-only voters would have to show proof of citizenship to continue participating in elections. Arizonans who registered to vote before 1996 in the state, before proof of citizenship was required to get a driver’s license, and who have not updated their voter registration, would also have to provide documentary evidence.

Surveys show that between 5 and 7 percent of Americans lack one of the documents required under the law to prove their citizenship. People who are more likely to be born outside a hospital, like Native Americans, are also less likely to have access to the necessary documents.

Set up for a legal challenge

Lawyers for the Arizona Legislature have said that the new law is unconstitutional given how it affects federal elections and is in direct violation of the Supreme Court’s 2013 opinion. By bringing the law back this year, Arizona was setting itself up for a legal challenge likely to end up before the now more conservative U.S. Supreme Court.

Several nonprofit and legal groups including the Campaign Legal Center and Arizona-based organizations have already brought a challenge to the law in court.

The new Arizona law also requires that voters provide their place of birth on their voter registration form and instructs election officials to reject applications that fail to list a place of birth. Clarke said that requirement is unlawful and immaterial because many U.S. citizens are born outside the country but are naturalized later in life.

Arizona is the only state that requires voters to provide documentary proof of citizenship to register to vote.

Arizona Republican Rep. Jake Hoffman, who sponsored HB 2492, was one of 11 people in Arizona and 84 across the country to serve as a fake elector for former President Donald Trump. He has supported Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was stolen because of voter fraud.

The lawsuit marks the first enforcement action filed by the DOJ’s voting section since March 2022, when the agency sued Galveston County, Texas, over the county’s redistricting plan, which the agency said violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act because it doesn’t give Black and Hispanic voters an equal opportunity to participate and elect their candidates of choice.

The new lawsuit is also the first voting enforcement agency taken by the agency under President Joe Biden that alleges violations of the National Voter Registration Act, also known as the motor voter law, which was enacted in 1993 to set requirements for voter registration for federal elections.

Since the 2020 election, Republican states have enacted dozens of restrictive voting laws that target who can register and cast a ballot. Clarke said Tuesday that the DOJ is determined to continue fighting unconstitutional voting laws.

“This lawsuit reflects our deep commitment to using every available tool to protect every American’s right to vote and to ensure their voices are heard in our democracy,” she said.

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Kira Lerner
Kira Lerner

Kira Lerner is the democracy reporter for the nonprofit States Newsroom, where she covers voting, elections, redistricting, and efforts to subvert democracy. Before joining States Newsroom, Kira was managing editor of Votebeat, a pop-up newsroom launched to cover election administration and voting before and after the 2020 election. She has also covered voting rights, criminal justice, and civil rights issues for outlets including The Appeal and ThinkProgress. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Guardian, Slate, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets. Kira has a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and is a native of the Washington, D.C. area.

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