A federal judge has given state and county election officials until the end of the month to finally comply with a court order to make sure that alternate voter registration forms are readily available — forms that do not require proof of citizenship.
Judge Roslyn Silver rejected claims by Attorney General Tom Horne that all election officials need do to comply with her order is accept the federal voter registration form if someone actually finds one and fills one out. Horne said the state has no obligation to actually provide those federal forms.
Instead, the judge said the state and counties “shall ensure widespread distribution of the federal form through all reasonable channels.” And she said that, by the end of the month, election officials must make that form available “where they make the state form available, including websites.”
Matt Roberts, spokesman for Secretary of State Ken Bennett, said Thursday his office already has complied with the latter half. The agency’s website now provides a link to where the federal form can be downloaded along with the existing link to the state form.
But the site still contains a blanket statement that proof of citizenship is necessary to register. And there is nothing to inform would-be voters that requirement does not apply if they choose to register with the federal form.
Roberts said he could not say whether that information would be provided.
“This is an ongoing process,” he said. “We have until the end of the month.”
Roberts also pointed out that Bennett disagrees with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled against the state, and has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn that decision.
But the justices earlier this year rejected a request by Horne to delay implementing the new requirements while they decide whether to review the case. And that left it to Silver to force the state to comply, at least for the time being.
The order has also left election officials in Arizona’s 15 counties with questions. They are scheduled to have a conference call Friday to figure out what they must now do.
Silver’s ruling is the latest victory for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund which filed suit to challenge voting provisions of a 2004 voter-approved law.
The judges upheld a requirement that those who show up at the polls provide proof of who they are. And the court said that the state is free to demand proof of citizenship when someone registers to vote using a form prepared by the Secretary of State’s Office.
What election officials cannot do, the court said, is refuse to accept a voter registration form that Congress directed the federal Election Assistance Commission to design. That form has no citizenship proof requirement, instead requiring only that those seeking to register to swear, under penalty of perjury, that they are in fact citizens.
That left it up to Silver to figure out exactly what the state and counties must now do.
While the judge ordered widespread distribution of the federal forms, she did not give MALDEF attorney Nina Perales everything she wanted.
For example, Perales asked Silver to list places that the federal form must be available, including not only government agencies but also at naturalization ceremonies, public libraries, apartment complexes, banks and credit unions, chambers of commerce, grocery stores and even businesses that offer postage and shipping services. Silver, however, left it up to election officials to determine what was reasonable.
But that open-ended order concerned Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez.
“There are businesses that have our form in their lobbies,” she said. Rodriguez questioned whether her office now has to seek out all those locations and stack up some federal forms, too.
And she asked whether the order means that any group conducting a voter registration drive has to be told they should use the state form unless the applicant doesn’t have the required identification to prove citizenship.
“We’re having lawyers and a judge argue this case,” she complained. “You’re not dealing with the people required to implement it.”
The judge did say that if a paper registration form is provided, that must include copies of both the state and federal form. But Silver rejected Perales’ request that if these forms are mailed out, there must also be a letter specifically informing recipients that the federal form “does not require proof of citizenship beyond your affirmation and signature.”
Rodriguez said she was frustrated that federal courts are even involved in the issue, pointing to that 2004 ballot measure
“The voters have spoken,” she said.
And Rodriguez said while Arizona is certainly required to accept the federal form, she disagrees with the appellate court’s ruling that the state cannot also demand proof of citizenship.
She said that federal form points out that each state has its own requirements for registering to vote. Rodriguez said she reads that to mean that the state still is able to seek documentation of citizenship.
In a separate part of her ruling, Silver directed county officials to go back through their records through the first of the year and identify anyone who submitted a federal registration form but was rejected because of the failure to also provide proof of citizenship.
The judge said if any of these people did not subsequently get registered after providing proof, election officials must now register that person “and promptly notify that new registrant of his or her eligibility to vote for candidates for state and federal office.”
Perales said she did not believe there are many people in that category. But she said that is likely because, until now, it has been hard to obtain a federal registration form.