U.S. court to hear cases on voting curbs as Arizona prepares for primary polls

Thousands who couldn’t prove citizenship can only vote for federal offices

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PHOENIX — A de­cades-old ef­fort by Con­gress to make voter reg­is­tra­tion sim­ple and uni­form across the coun­try has run up against a new era’s anti-im­mi­gra­tion pol­i­tics. So on Tues­day when Ari­zona’s pri­mary polls open for gov­er­nor, at­tor­ney gen­eral and a host of other state and lo­cal po­si­tions as well as for Con­gress, some vot­ers will be per­mit­ted to vote only in the race for Con­gress.

As voter reg­is­tra­tion drives in­ten­sify in the com­ing weeks, the list of vot­ers on the “fed­eral only” rolls for the No­vem­ber gen­eral elec­tions could reach the thou­sands. These are vot­ers who could not pro­duce the pa­per proof of cit­i­zen­ship that Ari­zona de­mands for vot­ing in state elec­tions.

The un­usual di­vi­sion of vot­ers into two tiers im­posed by Ari­zona and Kan­sas, and be­ing con­sid­ered in Geor­gia, Ala­bama and else­where, is at the cen­ter of a con­sti­tu­tional show­down and, as Rich­ard L. Hasen, an elec­tions ex­pert at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Irvine, put it, “part of a larger par­ti­san strug­gle over the con­trol of elec­tions.”

The is­sues will be ar­gued Mon­day be­fore a panel of the 10th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals, in Den­ver. This year, the cir­cuit court tem­po­rar­ily blocked a lower court de­ci­sion that would have forced fed­eral of­fi­cials to in­clude the state’s proof of cit­i­zen­ship re­quire­ments on reg­is­tra­tion forms used in Ari­zona and Kan­sas.

Apart from the le­gal prin­ci­ples at stake, groups work­ing to sign up vot­ers say the doc­u­ment re­quire­ments will most heav­ily af­fect mi­nor­i­ties, the poor, older adults and col­lege stu­dents who move into the state, ef­fec­tively dis­en­fran­chis­ing some.

“These re­stric­tive reg­is­tra­tion laws only add to the bar­ri­ers fac­ing La­tino vot­ers,” said Raquel Teran, the Ari­zona state di­rec­tor of Mi Fa­milia Vota, a na­tional group pro­mot­ing His­panic po­lit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion. Fed­eral elec­tion of­fi­cials and other ex­perts say that il­le­gal vot­ing by non­cit­i­zens is rare and in­con­se­quen­tial.

The doc­u­ment re­quire­ments im­posed by Ari­zona and Kan­sas are at odds with a 1993 fed­eral law that re­quires po­ten­tial vot­ers in fed­eral elec­tions sim­ply to swear on pen­alty of per­jury, and per­haps de­por­ta­tion, that they are cit­i­zens. Fed­eral reg­is­tra­tion forms, ac­cepted by nearly all the states along­side their own forms, do not ask for sup­port­ing pa­per­work like birth cer­tif­i­cates, which some find hard to ob­tain.

Ari­zona’s at­tor­ney gen­eral, Tom Horne, a Re­pub­li­can, sees the dis­pute over voter cer­ti­fi­ca­tion as a win­ning is­sue as he cam­paigns for re-elec­tion.

“People are very emo­tional about il­le­gals vot­ing and di­lut­ing their own votes,” Mr. Horne said in an in­ter­view.

Mr. Horne, who is bat­tling al­le­ga­tions of cam­paign fi­nance and other eth­ics vi­o­la­tions, is known for his hard-line views on im­mi­gra­tion. In speeches and a new tele­vi­sion ad, he boasts that he “fought voter fraud” by per­son­ally de­fend­ing Ari­zona’s proof-of-cit­i­zen­ship rules in court.

Just how many vot­ers will be fro­zen out of lo­cal and state elec­tions is un­clear. In Mari­copa County, which ac­counts for 60 per­cent of Ari­zona’s pop­u­la­tion, of­fi­cials said that as of last week, 811 vot­ers were on the fed­eral-only list, but only 303 of them were con­sid­ered “ac­tive vot­ers.”

Based on ex­pe­ri­ence, in­ten­si­fied voter drives in com­ing weeks will re­sult in a surge of new reg­is­tra­tions in­clud­ing many from peo­ple who do not have birth cer­tif­i­cates or other doc­u­ments at hand, said Sam Wer­cin­ski, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ari­zona Ad­vo­cacy Net­work, a lib­eral group pro­mot­ing “elec­toral justice.”

In Kan­sas, while the fed­eral-only rolls are small, about 19,000 ap­pli­cants have been placed on a “sus­pense list” be­cause their state forms are in­com­plete, in some cases be­cause they did not pro­vide the newly re­quired proof of cit­i­zen­ship, said Dol­ores Fur­tado, pres­i­dent of the League of Women Vot­ers of Kan­sas.

Reg­is­tra­tion drives here have been com­pli­cated by the need to of­fer dif­fer­ent forms. Most ap­pli­cants fill out the state form if they have the re­quired proof, which for many here is an Ari­zona driver’s li­cense first ob­tained since 1996, when cit­i­zen­ship sta­tus was reg­is­tered on li­censes. Others use the fed­eral form, end­ing up on the fed­eral-only roll.

Col­lege stu­dents ar­riv­ing from other states who want to vote in Ari­zona are of­ten af­fected since they are un­likely to have birth cer­tif­i­cates or other proof of cit­i­zen­ship with them, al­though they can change their sta­tus in the fu­ture if they ob­tain them.

Re­pub­li­can of­fi­cials like Mr. Horne and Kris W. Kobach, the Kan­sas sec­re­tary of state, in­sist that fraud­u­lent reg­is­tra­tion is a sig­nifi­cant threat, cit­ing an­ec­dotal re­ports and spo­radic pros­e­cu­tions.

But the fed­eral Elec­tion As­sis­tance Com­mis­sion, when in Jan­u­ary it again turned down the Ari­zona and Kan­sas re­quests to al­ter the fed­eral form, con­cluded that the num­ber of con­firmed fraud cases is minute and “is not cause to con­clude that ad­di­tional proof of cit­i­zen­ship must be re­quired.”



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