U.S. Department of Justice Brings Voting Rights Lawsuit in Arizona
Civil Rights Policy Brief #192 | By: Rodney A. Maggay | July 20, 2022
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In March 2022 Arizona’s Republican Governor Doug Ducey signed into law HB 2492. The law is scheduled to go into effect in January 2023. The law included a number of voting restrictions that the Arizona Legislature wanted to implement. The statute provides new databases that Arizona counties can check to verify the names on their voter rolls, added a box on the Arizona state voter registration form for voters to state where they were born, and a box for the voter to check if they are a U.S. citizen. Instructions were also drawn up directing voting officials to reject the voting application if the citizenship box was not check marked.
Along with those provisions, the most significant effect of the new statute is the requirement that any voter who wants to vote in a presidential election or vote by mail in any Arizona election must now provide documentary proof of citizenship.
However, a conflict between an Arizona state law and a federal statute has arisen. In a 2004 ballot measure that was approved, Arizona currently requires proof of citizenship when voters register to vote after 2005 in order to vote in state elections. However, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 provides a uniform federal voter application. States must accept the form if a voter chooses to use the federal form instead of the Arizona state form.
The federal form does not require documentary proof of citizenship but only requires voters to attest that they are U.S. citizens under penalty of perjury. Because Arizona’s new voter requirements differ from the information requested on the federal form, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona. DOJ is asking the Court to declare HB 2492 in violation of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and HB 2492 unenforceable. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE
With former President Donald Trump pushing the “Big Lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him and Republican officials across a number of states following his lead, there were questions whether anything was going to be done to counter President Trump’s election lies that some in the Republican Party have embraced.
State Republican officials seemed dead set on ignoring the evidence that there was no election fraud and pushed for voting restrictions for a problem that did not exist. What makes this new lawsuit by DOJ significant is that it is going to directly counter the proof of citizenship requirement that Republicans have supported. And, it will counter the false “immigrants voting” problem that Republicans have used as a rationale for more stringent voting restrictions.
Arizona’s HB 2492 is unnecessary as written because it is based on a false premise. The law is written in a way that applies only to voters voting in a presidential election. If the bill truly wanted to strengthen elections across the board then it should have been written to apply its requirements to all federal elections in the state instead of just presidential elections.
The reason why it may have been written to only apply to presidential elections is to probably satisfy President Trump’s lie that illegal immigrants voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in 2016 thus depriving him of a victory in the popular vote. But President Trump’s claim that 5 million illegal immigrants voted illegally has already been proven false.
Since illegal immigrants did not vote in significant numbers as President Trump has claimed, there is no reason for Arizona to implement a voting restriction that applies only to presidential election years.
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But more than that, this lawsuit is important to demonstrate that a focus on citizenship to prevent voter fraud is misguided. Arizona’s attempt to impose documentary proof of American citizenship as a requisite to vote in Arizona is contrary to the framework that has been put in place by the federal government.
The creation of the unified federal voter registration form that states must accept if a voter chooses to use that form simply requires that the voter attest that they are a citizen. This simple attestation without more has been sufficient and has not caused any problems for nearly thirty years. Arizona’s likely motivation for the documentary proof of citizenship requirement might be to challenge the citizenship issue at the Supreme Court again.
In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled against Arizona in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona and said that Arizona could not require documentary proof of citizenship if a resident used the federal voter registration form. By directly contradicting the federal government with HB 2492, Arizona is hoping that a newly right leaning Court will reverse course and allow their documentary proof of citizenship requirement to stand. This lawsuit brought by DOJ will help to expose the arguments that Arizona intends to rely on and show that Arizona’s reliance on those arguments and Trump’s false lies are not based in reality.
Additionally, the DOJ lawsuit can also push back on right wing arguments that millions of illegal immigrants are casting ballots. This is simply not true and only became a talking point because President Donald Trump needed to fabricate a lie to explain his loss in the popular vote in 2016. As this case moves forward, Arizona may very well find itself in a similar embarrassing position as those lawyers who claimed that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump – that they made wild claims of electoral fraud but had no evidence to substantiate their claims.
This DOJ lawsuit can help expose those false claims and show that proving citizenship is not the problem that right wingers want it to be. Now that DOJ has initiated their lawsuit, Arizona might find itself in more trouble than it anticipated when it is shown that their focus on citizenship to verify voters is irrelevant and does nothing to help provide voters with more access to the voting booth. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE
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