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Common sense and the Constitution should guide our voting policy

It makes absolutely no sense that someone would be qualified to vote for president but not for governor.

Yet that’s the logic of Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne and Secretary of State Ken Bennett.

In order to get around a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Bennett and Horne have proposed implementing a two-tiered voting system — based on the form people use to register. People who register using the state form will be able to cast ballots in all elections; those who register with the federal form will be limited to federal races.

If all goes as Horne and Bennett hope, Arizona will have two classes of voters for next year’s mid-term elections. It will be a significant policy shift — prior to Horne’s opinion on the matter in October, Arizonans could vote in any election after registering with the federal form. Moreover, dividing the voter rolls will be costly for taxpayers, burdensome for elections officials and confusing for voters.

Arizona and Kansas, where Secretary of State Kris Kobach is also trying to implement a two-tiered system, are the only jurisdictions where officials have a problem with the federal voter registration form, which requires voters to declare under penalty of perjury that they are citizens. Officials in just these two states think the federal form should require documentary proof of citizenship despite these safeguards, which have been in place for decades to make sure that no ineligible voters get on the rolls.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Arizona and Kansas’ misguided position this past summer when it ruled that the federal form’s declaration is sufficient proof of citizenship. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993, the court said in the case Arizona v. Inter-Tribal Council, forbids states from demanding that people submit documentary proof-of-citizenship when they register to vote using the federal form.

In response, Arizona and Kansas officials hatched their plans to bifurcate the voter rolls — adopting a voting process that has a long and sad history in the U.S.

In the mid-1990s, Mississippi was the only state to resist adopting the National Voter Registration Act and did exactly what Horne, Bennett and Kobach, an architect of the discriminatory SB1070, are now proposing. At the time, the U.S. Department of Justice said that such dual registration “virtually insures that it will have a discriminatory effect” on minority citizens, according to The New York Times.

Mississippi allowed the use of the federal form only for federal elections — until it became clear the dual system was unnecessarily complicated for elections officials and baffling for voters, who would show up at polls under the mistaken impression that they could vote in all elections.

Indeed, if Horne, Bennett and Kobach get their way, people who have done everything they are supposed to do — complied with all legal requirements for voter registration — will arbitrarily be denied the right to vote and sign petitions in state and local elections simply because of the form they used.

Through targeted advocacy, education and litigation the ACLU is working to make certain eligible voters can participate in elections. Last week, we filed a lawsuit in Kansas challenging Kobach’s plan. The suit charges that eligible voters are being divided into separate and unequal classes, in violation of the Kansas Constitution’s equal protection guarantees, “based on nothing more than the method of registration that a voter uses.”

All Americans should be able to vote — the most basic right in our democracy — without having to jump through bureaucratic hoops.

The very purpose of the federal form is to make registering to vote easy and convenient. The Arizona-Kansas approach does the exact opposite by introducing more complexity into an already confusing voting system. Under this new regime, mistakes are bound to happen and eligible voters will be told they cannot cast ballots.

Furthermore, implementing a two-tiered system will be unnecessarily onerous for election administrators and will raise the cost of keeping, maintaining and verifying voter registration lists throughout the state. Maricopa County alone estimates the cost of a dual system to be above $250,000.

Let’s use common sense and strengthen our democracy by making the voting system more transparent and simple.

Alessandra Soler, executive director, ACLU of Arizona.

4 comments

  1. I agree, all Americans should be able to vote—if they are citizens!

  2. All American citizens should be able to vote!!! Citizens only

  3. Horne and Bennett are passing legislation for their own selfish reasons and to divide voters in our state by denying them the right to vote. Eligibility to vote is determined by both federal and state law. Citizenship is governed by the federal government. While states have some discretion to establish suffrage and candidacy, one Arizona and Kansas are bent on denying the right to vote. Women have had a long fight to be able to vote and now you believe that these two men will deny us the right to vote. Both of these men are not qualified to represent all Arizonans in governorships. Women, let’s deny them the right to serve by not electing them.

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