The Justice Department is suing Arizona for requiring proof of citizenship to vote

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The Justice Department on Tuesday filed a lawsuit challenging an Arizona law that requires voters in presidential elections to show proof of citizenship, and launched a fight over a similar provision that the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in 2013.

State Republicans, who passed the new measure in a party-line vote in March, said the law was a safeguard against voter fraud, which supporters of then-President Donald Trump falsely claimed lost the state to President Biden in 2020, Arizona’s attorney general said in the April said his office had investigated allegations of voter fraud in the state’s largest county and found no evidence of widespread irregularities affecting the presidential election.

Democrats have criticized House Bill 2492 as another of the state’s GOP’s longstanding efforts to restrict voting and make it harder for some residents, including naturalized immigrants, to vote.

The bill would require voters to provide proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate, passport or naturalization papers on a federal voter registration form. It also requires county officials to cross-check voter registration lists against citizenship records and disqualify those not listed as citizens in the databases.

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Democrats and voting rights experts said the safeguards are not necessary because there is no evidence a significant number of non-citizens are attempting to vote in the US election. Critics of the law also say it could disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters, particularly the poor, as they may not have easy access to the right documents. Experts have said such requirements had a discriminatory effect on black and poor communities.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke called the Arizona law, which is due to go into effect next year, a “textbook violation” of the National Voter Registration Act. “Arizona passed a law that is turning back the progress clock by imposing unlawful and unnecessary requirements that would bar eligible voters from registration lists for certain federal elections,” she said.

Justice Department officials said the law disregards a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that nullified a similar attempt from Arizona to enact a requirement to prove citizenship. At the time, a majority of the court said the move violated federal laws that do not require such documentation.

In the lawsuit, federal prosecutors said the federal voter registration form “already includes a certificate proving a prospective voter’s citizenship, which Arizona continues to accept for in-person voting in congressional elections.”

Whether a prospective voter is able to provide documentary evidence, the lawsuit states, “is not material to whether that voter is qualified to vote by mail or in presidential elections.”

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Arizona Republicans said the law was not unconstitutional, arguing that the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision concerned congressional elections and did not specifically mention presidential elections. However, before passing the bill, the state legislature’s legal counsel warned lawmakers that it could be unlawful. Gov. Doug Ducey’s (R) office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Arizona law sponsor Rep. Jake Hoffman (R) is a Trump supporter who was among 11 state GOP lawmakers who sent a letter on Jan. 5, 2021, falsely identifying themselves as the state’s presidential voter declared. They asked then-Vice President Mike Pence not to accept voters from states won by Joe Biden during the next day’s congressional count.

On Jan. 6, 2021, a mob of Trump supporters exited a rally led by the then-President and staged a riot in the Capitol, with some chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” to prevent Biden’s electoral vote from being counted.

This is an evolving story. It will be updated. The Justice Department is suing Arizona for requiring proof of citizenship to vote

James Brien

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