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Two-tier voting system possible in Arizona, Kansas

VWhen Georgia Bartlett moved to Arizona more than a year ago, she did what she’s done in each of the many states where she lived since reaching voting age: She registered to vote.

But Bartlett, 68, who moved to Phoenix from Arkansas to be near her grown children, was tripped up because she used a federal form to register. She signed under penalty of perjury that she’s a citizen entitled to vote, but soon found out that wasn’t good enough.

Instead of receiving a sample ballot, she began receiving letters from the local registrar seeking proof she was a citizen. She sent a copy of her Arkansas driver’s license, but was told that wasn’t good enough. So she just gave up.

“It’s just irritating that they say you need to be a citizen, and you prove you’re a citizen and they say that’s not good enough because you don’t have an Arizona driver’s license,” Bartlett said. “It shouldn’t matter.”

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in June, ruling states can’t require people using the federal form to provide additional proof in addition to the sworn statement Congress required when it passed the 1993 National Voter Registration Act.

But Arizona and Kansas are resisting, and say they’ll set up separate ballots that only allow those who haven’t provided additional citizenship proof to vote in federal elections covered by the high court’s decision.

Both states are also asking a federal judge in Kansas to require the obscure federal commission that oversees the federal form to allow them to seek additional proof. That case is pending.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said in October that state law requires Arizona to only allow proven citizens to vote in its elections, and Secretary of State Ken Bennett is implementing the policy.

In Kansas, Attorney General Kris Kobach said he’s trying to avoid a two-track voting policy by forcing the changes to the federal form.

In the meantime, almost 19,000 new voters in the state have submitted registration forms but still can’t legally cast ballots because they haven’t complied with new citizenship proof requirements.

Bartlett would have been allowed to vote in the November 2012 general election if she had showed up at a polling place and produced some form of valid identification, Maricopa County Election Director Karen Osborne said.

But starting in 2014, all she’ll be able to vote in are federal races, unless she provides proof she’s really a citizen.

Fewer than 3,000 Arizonans have used the federal form and not provided additional proof of citizenship required under a 2004 law approved by the state’s voters, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

Local registrars are redoubling their efforts to reach out to those people, trying to get them to provide the state the needed proof that will allow them to vote in local and state elections too.

Osborne said in a recent interview that Maricopa County is sending another batch of letters in January to those voters they have not been able to show are citizens by accessing state and federal databases, and hope to get at least 10 percent of them confirmed.

Setting up such two-tiered election system has drawn fierce opposition from voting rights groups. The League of Women Voters, for one, has joined the Justice Department is opposing changes to the federal form.

“The Kansas and Arizona laws would make it harder for certain citizens to vote,” said Wendy Weiser, who directs the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program and represents the Leagues in this case.

The executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona called the state’s insistence on a two-tier system a “bureaucratic nightmare” that will leave three classes of voters — those who can vote in all elections, those only in federal, and a third group essentially in limbo from voting at all.

“It really is creating unnecessary barriers to the ballot,” said Alessandra Soler. “You’re talking to people who are eligible citizens. The whole purpose of this was to combat fraud, a problem that doesn’t exist, and here you have people who are actually citizens who are eligible to vote and government is making it harder for them to register to vote.”

Setting up a second ballot that only allows voting in federal races is pricey, but not overly so, Osborne said. She said making the alternate ballots available in each of the county’s 724 precincts will cost about $250,000.

The vast majority of Arizonans register by using a state form that requires proof of citizenship, such as a driver’s license, U.S. birth certificate, passport or other similar document. But voting rights groups often do registration drives using the federal form.

In Arizona’s Maricopa County, the state’s most populous, The Associated Press called dozens of the 963 people on the voter rolls who used the federal forms and were blocked from voting before the Supreme Court decision.

The majority were unreachable, including one who had registered at a group home where a caretaker said he was now in a nursing home. Many registered from addresses showing they lived at dorms at Arizona State University in Tempe.

But besides Bartlett, the AP reached a half-dozen voters young and middle aged, all who said they were citizens.

Several said they were frustrated and believed they had been blocked from voting. Several said the same as her, that they had received letters saying they couldn’t vote unless they proved they were citizens.

Osborne said the letters only said they had to vote in person and prove they were who they said they were, not citizenship.

“It makes me feel like at any time when I go and try to let my voice be heard I’m being discriminated against they don’t believe I am from here,” said Sarah Barcenas, a 49-year-old cook at a Phoenix-area nursing home who registered in September 2012.

“I’m from Phoenix, I was born in Phoenix,” she said.

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