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Justice Dept. Sues Arizona Over Voting Restrictions


The Justice Department sued Arizona on Tuesday over a latest state law requiring proof of citizenship to vote in a presidential election, saying the Republican-imposed restrictions are a “textbook violation” of federal law.

It’s the third time the department under Attorney General Merrick B. Garland has challenged a state’s voting law and comes as Democratic leaders and voting rights groups have pressed Mr. Garland to act more decisively against measures that limit access to the ballot.

Arizona’s law, which Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, signed in March, requires voters to prove their citizenship to vote in a presidential election, like showing a birth certificate or passport. It also mandates that newly registered voters provide a proof of address, which could disproportionately affect individuals with limited access to government-issued identification cards. Those include immigrants, students, older people, low-income voters and Native Americans.

“Arizona has passed a law that turns the clock back by imposing illegal and unnecessary requirements that might block eligible voters from the registration rolls for certain federal elections,” Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, told reporters on Tuesday.

Ms. Clarke said that by imposing what she described as “onerous” requisites, the law “constitutes a textbook violation” of the National Voter Registration Act, which makes it easier to register to vote. The department said the law also ran afoul of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in asking election officials to reject voter registration forms based on errors or omissions that aren’t relevant to a voter’s eligibility.

As of March, 31,500 “federal only” voters might be prevented from voting in the subsequent presidential election under the brand new requirements if state officials are unable to trace down their information in time to validate their ballots.

Some voting rights groups contend that the variety of affected voters might be even greater. But even a couple of thousand fewer votes might be decisive in Arizona, one of the vital closely contested battleground states: In 2020, Joseph R. Biden Jr. defeated President Donald J. Trump in Arizona by about 10,000 votes.

A spokesperson for Mr. Ducey didn’t immediately reply to requests for comment. When he signed the bill in March, Mr. Ducey said the law, expected to take effect in January, was “a balanced approach that honors Arizona’s history of constructing voting accessible without sacrificing security in our elections.”

Arizona has been at the middle of among the most contentious battles over the 2020 election. Six months after the election, its Republican-led Senate authorized an outdoor review of the election in Maricopa County, an abnormal step that quickly devolved right into a hotbed for conspiracy theorists. The state has also passed multiple laws that impose latest restrictions to voting.

Even before the Republican-controlled Legislature passed the measure, existing state law required all voters to offer proof of citizenship to vote in state elections. Federal voting registration forms still required voters to attest that they were residents, but not to offer documentary proof.

In 2013, the Supreme Court upheld that law but added that Arizona must accept the federal voter registration form for federal elections. That essentially created a bifurcated system in Arizona that might require documented proof of citizenship to vote in state elections but allow those simply registering with the federal voter registration form the power to vote in federal elections.

The brand new law could threaten the registrations of those voters, stopping tens of 1000’s of them from casting a ballot in presidential elections, voting rights groups contend.

“There’s actually going to be some people in Arizona that aren’t going to give you the option to vote under the proof-of-citizenship requirement,” said Jon Greenbaum, the chief counsel for the nonpartisan Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and a former Justice Department lawyer.

While the brand new law would have sprawling consequences for a lot of groups, local election officials have noted that delivering documentary proof of citizenship might be especially hard amongst Native American populations, which were key to helping flip Arizona to Mr. Biden in 2020.

“You will have folks who were born on reservations who may not have birth certificates, and due to this fact may find it very difficult to prove citizenship on paper someway,” said Adrian Fontes, the previous election administrator for Maricopa County and a current Democratic candidate for secretary of state. “Things of this nature have at all times been of great concern for election administrators in Arizona.”

In June 2021, the department sued Georgia over its sweeping latest voting law that overhauled the state’s election administration and introduced a number of restrictions to voting within the state, especially voting by mail. In November, the department sued Texas over a provision limiting the help available to voters on the polls.

Marc Elias, a Democratic elections lawyer who represented a gaggle that filed a suit against Arizona earlier this yr, said he was relieved to see the department follow through on Mr. Biden’s pledge last yr to counter a threat from Republican-sponsored state laws he called the “most vital test to democracy” for the reason that Civil War.

“Adding the voice and authority of america is incredibly helpful to the fight for voting rights,” Mr. Elias said in an interview.

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