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DOJ sues Arizona over proof-of-citizenship elections law

The Department of Justice says the law would reject ballots for simple errors, such as forgetting to check a box.

PHOENIX (CN) — The U.S. Department of Justice sued Arizona Tuesday to block a new law requiring residents to provide proof of citizenship when they register to vote in federal elections.

According to the federal complaint, House Bill 2492 violates the National Voter Registration Act by requiring that applicants produce documentary proof of citizenship before they can vote in presidential elections or vote by mail in any federal election.

The Justice Department claims the law contradicts the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona — another time the government intervened in Arizona’s election laws. In that case, the high court ruled 7-2 that the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 superseded a 2004 voter-approved initiative that would have required proof of citizenship in Arizona when voting. 

“The Federal Form already includes an attestation demonstrating a prospective voter’s citizenship, which Arizona continues to accept for in-person voting in congressional elections,” the Justice Department states in the complaint. “Whether a prospective voter is able to provide [documentary proof of citizenship] DPOC, in addition to this attestation, is not material to whether that voter is qualified to vote by mail or in presidential elections.”

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who is running for U.S. Senate, rebuked the suit Tuesday. 

“In addition to free rooms and transportation for those illegally entering our country, the DOJ now wants to give them a chance to vote,” he said in a statement. “It’s another round of Brnovich v. Biden. I will once again be in court defending Arizona against the lawlessness of the Biden administration.”

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke says Arizona’s law violates decades of legal precedent. 

“House Bill 2492’s onerous documentary proof of citizenship requirement for certain federal elections constitutes a textbook violation of the National Voter Registration Act,” she said in a statement. “For nearly three decades, the National Voter Registration Act has helped to move states in the right direction by eliminating unnecessary requirements that have historically made it harder for eligible voters to access the registration rolls. Arizona has passed a law that turns the clock back on progress by imposing unlawful and unnecessary requirements that would block eligible voters from the registration rolls for certain federal elections.”

The law’s sponsor, state Representative Jake Hoffman, a Republican from Queen Creek, said he initiated the bill based on what he saw as an increase in migrants in the U.S. who were illegally casting ballots. 

“In 2018, there were only 1,700 individuals who didn’t have documentary proof of citizenship on file,” he said during a March legislative committee. “In 2020, there were almost 12,000. So clearly, this is a trend that is increasing. This bill ensures that there is maximum flexibility to provide documentary proof of citizenship, but we don’t want foreign interference in our elections.”

The law allows voters 30 days from registration to provide proof of citizenship.

The DOJ also contends that HB 2492 violates the “Materiality Provision” in Section 101 of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits election officials from rejecting voter registration forms based on errors or omissions that are not material to establishing a voter’s eligibility to cast a ballot.

“HB 2492 also requires election officials to reject voter registration applications even when a voter provides DPOC with the application if the voter fails to also check a box indicating that the voter is a citizen,” the lawsuit says. “Whether voters who have already proven that they are U.S. citizens fail to check this box, through error or omission, is not material to establishing their qualifications to vote."

Co-defendant and Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who is running for Governor, released a statement late Tuesday. 

"I made it clear from the start that I did not think that this law was constitutional or good policy, for that matter," she said.

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