Arizona Advocacy Network

Government of, by and for the People


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Arizona’s two-track system for voter registration risks leaving hundreds of otherwise eligible voters unable to cast a ballot in the Nov. 6 election.

That has sent elections officials and advocacy groups scrambling to find a solution in the closing weeks of the election season.

In Maricopa County, officials Friday said that they will send letters to the 1,344 people on their “suspense” list and issue them a formal letter and certificate that will serve as a piece of identification at the polls.

That should remove the barriers that have, up to now, prevented some first-time voters who registered using a federal form from getting the go-ahead to vote this fall.

The problem stems from a federal court ruling earlier this year on Arizona’s rules for registration and voting. While the state registration form requires people to produce documents proving their citizenship, individuals who register using a federal form do not have to. Instead, they must attest, under penalty of perjury, that they are U.S. citizens.

The court ruled that state officials must honor the federal requirements for the federal forms, which essentially created two systems for registration. The state is appealing the ruling, and the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case next year, but in the meantime, the state is supposed to follow the lower court’s decision.

However, when a federal form would arrive at elections offices without the required ID number, the application was put on a “suspense” list while elections officials sought to verify the person’s identity.

That’s been a problem for a number of students, said Sam Wercinski, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network Foundation. Many of them, particularly out-of-state students who want to vote in Arizona, don’t have the documents Arizona requires. Those include a property-tax statement, a state-issued driver’s license and a utility bill.

“If you live in the dorms, are you going to have any of those items?” Wercinski asked. He’s been working with the Arizona Students’ Association to track down students who are affected by the requirements.

In Coconino County, home to Northern Arizona University, elections officials have decided to issue both a recorder’s certificate and a voter-registration card to qualified students, Wercinski said. That will enable at least 100 students caught up in the confusion to vote, he said.

Coconino County officials did not return a call seeking comment.

In Maricopa County, elections director Karen Osborne said the letter and recorder’s certificate should help to validate the 1,344 people in her county whose registrations have been in limbo. “It’s the gold standard,” she said.

That’s because in addition to serving as ID at the polls, the letter will explain the recorder’s certificate is proof of registration. The letter also will contain information on the voter’s polling place.

Those getting a certificate still must supply a second piece of identification from a state-approved list.

While that could still pose a dilemma for students, Wercinski said the county’s approach is sound.

“I applaud what the Maricopa County elections official is doing,” he said of Osborne. “She is responding to a problem.”

He said his group, along with the students’ association, would be on the university campuses starting Saturday to help students ensure they have the proper ID to vote.

Likewise, the director of the Maricopa County Democratic Party cheered the county’s decision, saying it should enable more people to vote.

Ann Wallack said she will continue her efforts to get the names of people on the suspense list so she can help them get to the polls. By law, party officials get the voter-registration lists of each county for free.