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 polls open for primaries 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 United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit 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 also college students who move into the state, effectively disenfranchising some.
“These restrictive registration laws only add to the barriers facing Latino voters,” said Raquel Terán, the Arizona 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 documentary 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.