Arizona’s Republican governor on Wednesday signed a bill requiring voters to prove their citizenship to vote in a presidential election, drawing fierce opposition from voting rights advocates who say it risks affecting 200,000 people.
The bill also requires anyone newly registering to vote to provide proof of their address.
The state legislature’s own lawyers say much of the measure is unconstitutional, directly contradicts a recent US supreme court decision and is likely to be thrown out in court. Still, voting rights advocates worry the bill is an attempt to get back in front of the now more conservative supreme court.
Representative Jake Hoffman, who developed the bill along with the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the measure was about eliminating opportunities for fraud, though cases of non-citizens voting are extremely rare.
Arizona is the only state that requires voters to prove their citizenship when they register, a provision adopted in a 2004 ballot measure known as Proposition 200.
In a challenge to Proposition 200, the US supreme court ruled in 2013 that Arizona can adopt its own eligibility criteria for state elections but must accept a federal voter registration form for federal elections. The federal form requires voters to attest under penalty of perjury that they are citizens, but unlike the state form, it does not require them to provide documentary proof. The state has tried unsuccessfully to get the federal form changed.
The ruling created a class of voters who can vote only for president, US House and US Senate known as “federal-only voters”. There are 31,500 people currently registered that way, according to the Arizona secretary of state’s Office.
There is no evidence that the existence of federal-only voters has allowed noncitizens to illegally vote, but Republican skeptics have nonetheless worked aggressively to crack down.
The bill would take effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session, which is likely to fall between the primary and general elections. Affected voters could vote legally in the 2 August primary. They would get notified their registration was at risk of cancellation if they did not prove their citizenship, and they would have until 11 October to fix the issue or miss their chance to vote in the general election.
Sam Almy, a data analyst who consults for Democratic campaigns, said his analysis of voter registration records found just under 220,000 voters who had not updated their registration since 2004, when Proposition 200 passed. The group skews heavily toward registered Republicans, older people and those who consistently vote.