Judge Orders Voter Registration Change In Arizona

By Jude Joffe-Block
August 18, 2012

PHOENIX -- A judge has ordered that Arizona must make the federal government’s voter registration form available, and must accept those forms without a proof of citizenship. The order comes just in time to make an impact before the next election.

The controversy dates back to a 2004 proposition passed by voters that requires anyone registering to vote in Arizona to provide proof of citizenship -- either a driver's license number or a copy of another document -- with the state form.

Since there is no such mandate under federal law, the federal voter registration form does not include that requirement.

Up until recently, the state's policy was to reject any registration form that did not include a proof of citizenship, regardless of whether it was a state or federal form.

Now U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver has ruled that not only must Arizona accept those federal forms without additional proof of citizenship, the state must make them available everywhere the state form is given out.

"The timing is very important," said Nina Perales of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, which first brought the suit against the state in 2006. "For the next couple of months and leading up to the registration deadline, Arizonans have the same rights as everyone else in the country: to either use the state forms to register or the federal form to register."

Perales says some newly naturalized citizens had their voter registration applications rejected under Arizona’s system.

But Secretary of State spokesman Matt Roberts says Arizona is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"There has been concern with citizenship eligibility and we share that concern and we want to make sure that people who are eligible to vote are actual U.S. citizens," Roberts said.

The case already has a long litigation history, and was remanded back to Silver after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the state could not require proof of citizenship with the federal forms. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the state's request for an emergency stay on that order.

Now the Secretary of State has until the end of the month to distribute the federal forms. The order also directs the agency to register any voters whose federal registration forms were rejected within the last year because they failed to provide proof of citizenship.

A small link to the federal registration form now appears halfway down the page of the Secretary of State's website dedicated to voter registration.