Attorney General Tom Horne accused the Obama administration Tuesday of trying to thwart Arizona’s voter-ID laws in a bid to get more illegal immigrants to the polls — presumably to cast ballots for the president and Democrats.
Horne acknowledged that a brief filed by the Department of Justice in a case to be heard next month by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals centers around the agency’s argument that Arizona’s law requiring proof of citizenship to register is pre-empted by federal law. But Horne, a Republican, told Capitol Media Services he sees something more sinister.
“I think the motive is that the more illegals that vote, the better the Obama administration thinks it will do,’’ he said.
As proof, Horne pointed out that the Department of Justice did not file its friend of the court brief until just last week. That is nearly three years after the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and others first challenged the law.
More to the point, Horne said, is that the administration waited until virtually the last minute: The case is set to be heard in just two weeks.
A Department of Justice spokeswoman brushed aside Horne’s questions, saying the arguments in the legal brief speak for themselves.
At the heart of the fight is a 2004 voter-approved law that requires presentation of certain documents that prove citizenship before someone can register. Another provision of the same law, not at issue here, mandates identification before casting a ballot.
The lawsuit contends that runs afoul of the National Voter Registration Act. That law spells out what states can and cannot require before someone can vote in federal elections.
A trial judge did not see it that way. But last year, in a divided opinion, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit ruled the law invalid because of the conflict with the National Voter Registration Act.
That led to the decision to ask for review by a full 11-judge panel of the court. Horne, who said he will argue the case personally, said this is more than an academic question.
“Illegals are voting and they shouldn’t be voting,’’ he said.
“Nobody that I’ve talked to, regardless of political persuasion, can understand how a court can tell us that we can’t make sure that people who vote are citizens.’’
Horne said there was evidence presented when the case went to trial that illegal immigrants had registered to vote, some of that from the state’s two largest counties.
“Normally, the way they catch people is they get a jury summons and they swear under oath that they’re not citizens,’’ he said. “But they’re already registered to vote.’’
But MALDEF attorney Nina Perales said the evidence presented was that some people who are not citizens did, in fact, register to vote. But she said it would be wrong to call them “illegals.’’
“I know that some citizens in Arizona love to collapse those terms and make every legal permanent resident immigrant into a so-called illegal immigrant,’’ Perales said. “So if that’s what he told you — that there was evidence in this case that there were illegals registered to vote and voting — that is a falsehood.’’
Perales said there was testimony of “scattered incidents’’ of people who thought they were eligible to register to vote, did register and only found out later that they were not eligible.
Horne, however, said that in one year there were about 200 incidents reported of people who were not citizens having registered to vote. “And about 10 were prosecuted,’’ he said.
Horne said the problem is not so much caused by those not in the country illegally but by organizations like ACORN that have registration drives and pay people to sign people up to vote.
“Those people fool people into registering,’’ he said.
Horne linked the Department of Justice legal brief to other ongoing battles between Arizona and federal government.
He said the Obama administration, after failing to secure the border itself, went to court to block the state from enacting its own laws aimed at illegal immigration. And Horne cited recent comments by the president arguing that the border is safe, saying he is trying to “create a false sense of complacency.’’
And he said the latest court filing amounts to arguing that people should be able to register without providing information to prove citizenship, “thus enabling illegal aliens to register to vote.’’
Horne said there is no reason for the Obama administration to insert itself into the fight, other than for political reasons.
“What we are asking for is not burdensome at all,’’ he said.
Horne said 90 percent of Arizonans have a driver’s license or a state-issued ID card. Those cards are now recognized as proof of citizenship because there is a requirement to prove at least legal presence in this country.
The state’s voter registration forms require the number of those cards to be listed.
He also said all naturalized citizens have a certificate with a number of its own that also can be listed on the registration forms. And those who have neither can produce other documents, like a birth certificate.
“The burden is miniscule,’’ Horne said. And he said even the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized there are benefits in ensuring that only those legally entitled to vote are casting ballots.
The 2010 census data, the most recent available, shows there are about 4.7 million residents 18 and older. There is no breakdown by citizenship.
According to the Secretary of State’s Office, there were 3.1 million registered to vote last year. And of that, only about 1.7 million of them, or 55.6 percent, actually cast a ballot.