Are Arizonans being illegally denied the right to vote in federal elections?

PHOENIX – A new lawsuit charges that thousands of Arizonans are illegally being denied the right to vote in federal elections.

Legal papers filed Tuesday in federal court here acknowledge that state law requires would-be voters to produce certain identification when registering. That requirement has been upheld in prior court rulings.

But attorneys for the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Arizona Students Association point out that the U.S. Supreme Court has said that state law does not – and cannot – prevent people from registering to vote for federal elections using a federally approved registration form. And they contend that those whose state registrations are rejected for lack of citizenship proof are not informed of that option.

“At least 26,000 voters in Maricopa County alone have been disenfranchised by these policies,’’ the lawsuit states. But the problem is not limited there.

The lawyers say they’ve sampled more than 2,000 state registration forms which were rejected because applicants had failed to provide the required proof of citizenship. Of that group, fewer than 15 percent successfully registered after receiving notice of the rejection.

“Therefore, many eligible voters across Arizona have been disenfranchised by these unnecessary bureaucratic policies,’’ the lawsuit states.

The lawyers want U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell to order counties to register people for federal elections if their state registration forms are otherwise valid, regardless of whether they have provided the citizenship proof.

They also want Campbell to tell counties that before they can reject a state registration form they must try to match the information with data from the Motor Vehicle Division. With only certain exceptions, an Arizona driver’s license issued after Oct. 1, 1996 is proof of citizenship.

Matt Roberts, press aide to Secretary of State Michele Reagan, said her office will have no comment until it reviews the complaint.

There also was no comment from Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes. The recorders from the state’s other 14 counties were not named as defendants in the complaint even though the attorneys who filed the lawsuit said they found similar problems in most of them.

The legal fight has its roots in Proposition 200, a 2004 ballot measure which was part of a broader effort aimed at those not in the country legally.

It requires both proof of citizenship to register and identification when casting a ballot. Proponents said it would ensure that election results are not affected by those voting illegally.

Legal efforts to kill the ID provision failed. And Arizona has been allowed all along to require documented proof of citizenship for those who use state-designed forms to register.

Other than a license, other acceptable proof includes copies of birth certificates, passports, naturalization documents and tribal identification.

But Congress, in approving the National Voting Registration Act, directed the federal Election Assistance Commission to design a single national voter-registration form to simplify the process. More to the point, that form requires no proof of citizenship but only that those signing up swear, under penalty of perjury, that they are eligible to vote.

The attorneys are telling Campbell that the ability to register, at least for federal elections, goes beyond those who may not possess proof of citizenship.