Justice Department sues Arizona over voting restrictions

The Justice Department sued Arizona on Tuesday over a new state law requiring proof of citizenship to vote in a presidential election, saying the Republican-imposed restrictions are a “playbook violation” of federal law.

This is the third time Attorney General Merrick B. Garland’s department has challenged a state’s election law and comes as Democratic leaders and voting rights groups have pressed Mr. Garland to act in a manner more decisively against measures that limit access to the ballot.

The Arizona law, which Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, signed in March, requires voters to prove their citizenship to vote in a presidential election, such as showing a birth certificate or passport. It also requires newly registered voters to provide proof of address, which could disproportionately affect people with limited access to government-issued ID cards. These include immigrants, students, seniors, low-income voters, and Native Americans.

“Arizona passed a law that turns back the clock by imposing illegal and unnecessary requirements that would prevent eligible voters from getting on the registration rolls for certain federal elections,” Kristen Clarke, Attorney General, told reporters. assistant in the civil rights division of the Department of Justice. Tuesday.

Ms Clarke said that by imposing what she described as “onerous” conditions, the law “is a classic breach” of the National Voter Registration Act, which makes it easier to register to vote. The department said the law also violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by requiring election officials to reject voter registration forms due to errors or omissions that are not relevant to voter eligibility. a voter.

In March, 31,500 “federal-only” voters could be barred from voting in the next presidential election under new requirements if state officials are unable to track down their information in time to validate their ballots. .

Some voting rights groups argue that the number of voters affected could be even higher. But even a few thousand fewer votes could be decisive in Arizona, one of the most contested battleground states: in 2020, Joseph R. Biden Jr. defeated President Donald J. Trump in Arizona by an estimated 10,000 voice.

A spokesperson for Mr. Ducey did not immediately respond to requests for comment. When he signed the bill into law in March, Ducey said the law, which is expected to take effect in January, was “a balanced approach that honors Arizona’s history of making voting accessible without sacrifice security in our elections”.

Arizona has been at the center of some of the most contentious battles in the 2020 election. Six months after the election, its Republican-led Senate authorized an outside review of the Maricopa County election, an anomalous step that quickly turned into a hotbed for conspiracy theorists. The state has also passed several laws that impose new restrictions on voting.

Even before the Republican-controlled legislature passed the measure, current state law required all voters to provide proof of citizenship to vote in state elections. Federal voter registration forms still required voters to certify that they were citizens, but not to provide documentary proof.

In 2013, the Supreme Court upheld that law, but added that Arizona must accept the federal voter registration form for federal elections. This essentially created a bifurcated system in Arizona that would require documented proof of citizenship to vote in state elections, but would allow those who simply register with the federal voter registration form to be able to vote in federal elections.

The new law could threaten the registrations of those voters, preventing tens of thousands of them from voting in presidential elections, say voting rights groups.

“There will definitely be people in Arizona who cannot vote under the proof of citizenship requirement,” said Jon Greenbaum, chief attorney for the nonpartisan Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and former Attorney at the Ministry of Justice.

While the new law would have sweeping consequences for many groups, local election officials noted that providing documentary proof of citizenship can be particularly difficult among Native American populations, which was critical in helping turn Arizona into Mr. Biden in 2020.

“You may have people who were born on reserves who may not have birth certificates and therefore may find it very difficult to prove citizenship on paper one way or another,” said Adrian Fontes, former Maricopa County election administrator and current Democratic candidate for secretary. of state. “Things of this nature have always been of great concern to election administrators in Arizona.”

In June 2021, the department sued Georgia over its sweeping new election law that overhauled the state’s election administration and introduced a host of restrictions on voting in the state, particularly mail-in voting. In November, the department sued Texas over a provision limiting voter assistance at the polls.

Marc Elias, a Democratic election attorney who represented a group that filed a lawsuit against Arizona earlier this year, said he was relieved to see the department follow through on Mr Biden’s pledge last year to counter the threat of Republican-sponsored state laws he called for. the “most significant test for democracy” since the civil war.

“Adding the voice and authority of the United States is incredibly helpful in the fight for suffrage,” Elias said in an interview.