By Jon Sherman | March 2, 2022
The Arizona Legislature is apparently done paying lip service to protecting voter access. A number of extreme bills that will upend Arizona’s well-functioning election system are rocketing through the Legislature. One standout in a crowded field of anti-democratic legislation, HB2492, has passed the House and is moving to the Senate. Several of its provisions are unprecedented, not only for Arizona, but anywhere in the country. To safeguard Arizonans’ access to the ballot, this piece of legislation needs to be stopped.
First and foremost, this bill takes Arizona’s proof of citizenship requirement for voter registration, which was adopted in 2004, and imports it for the first time ever into the definition of a qualified voter. By making satisfactory proof of citizenship a requirement for voting eligibility, this bill would retroactively apply it to the millions of Arizona voters who registered before the proof of citizenship law took effect nearly 18 years ago.
While voters in every state in the country and D.C. must affirm that they are U.S. citizens on a registration form, no state requires millions of existing registered voters to prove their citizenship. Arizona is the only state in the nation with a documentary proof of citizenship requirement currently in force, but even it exempts previously registered voters. The current Arizona proof of citizenship law makes clear that “any person who is registered in this state on the effective date . . . is deemed to have provided satisfactory evidence of citizenship and shall not be required to resubmit evidence of citizenship unless the person is changing voter registration from one county to another.” But this bill would do away with that protection.
Imagine how many of Arizona’s 4.35 million registered voters would be immediately forced off the rolls or given just 30 days to provide proof of their citizenship, such as a birth certificate or naturalization papers. And since most of the electorate lives in Maricopa and Pima counties, that means just two county recorders will have to process all of those millions of copies of evidence of U.S. citizenship. That is a recipe for chaos, not election integrity, and it would likely cut the state’s electorate in half overnight. If Arizona proceeds with this bill, it will draw numerous lawsuits and be in lonely, uncharted waters defending the indefensible.
Second, HB2492 would enact a documentary proof of residence requirement for any voters who do not have an Arizona driver’s license or state ID. Native American voters without traditional addresses recognized by the U.S. Postal Service, voters experiencing poverty or homelessness, voters who do not drive, student voters from another state who have enrolled in Arizona colleges—all of these groups will be newly forced to provide a photocopy of documentary proof of residence. Conducting a registration drive in such communities will become impossible without the benefit of prohibitively expensive portable photocopiers.
Additionally, the bill directs county recorders to go on a witch hunt for non-citizens submitting registration applications, which is, of course, already illegal. It mandates that those registration applicants who do not submit proof of citizenship be compared to a variety of federal and state databases and, in a serious legislative overreach, requires the attorney general to prosecute any applicants who are suspected of being non-citizens. So much for separation of powers. These provisions are insane, and insanely terrible policy. There is no central database of up-to-date U.S. citizenship information. Stale government transaction data, such as DMV driver’s license issuance data, is not grounds to deem a person currently lacks U.S. citizenship.
Every year, voting rights advocates teach government officials the same lesson: a person can acquire a driver’s license at Time 1, then naturalize as a U.S. citizen at Time 2, and then register to vote at Time 3. Upon registering to vote, they are U.S. citizens, and using data on Time 1’s government transaction is illogical and, more importantly, illegal. A process that has a discriminatory effect on naturalized U.S. citizens violates their constitutional rights. Whenever a state has made noises about using stale government data to “find illegal voters,” a mix of litigation and education inevitably shuts it down. Relying on old data to ascertain whether someone is a U.S. citizen now is not the policy of any state in the country. Arizona legislators should take heed.
Alas, Arizona legislators seem indifferent to the harm their badly flawed proposals will inflict on many voters. HB2492 reflects callous indifference to voters and the law. It must be stopped.
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Jon Sherman is litigation director and senior counsel with Fair Elections Center, a nonpartisan voting rights organization based in Washington, DC.
Read the op-ed online at: https://azcapitoltimes.com/news/2022/03/02/hb2492-other-extreme-voting-bills-must-be-stopped/