Arizona's 2-track voting plan to be costly
Arizona is creating a two-track voting system, with one track that will accommodate a tiny fraction of the state’s voters at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars to county governments.Last month, Secretary of State Ken Bennett said the switch is needed in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that determined Arizona cannot impose its proof-of- citizenship requirement on voters who use a federal voter-registration form. The citizenship requirement applies only to those registering with Arizona’s state form.
Relying on an opinion from Attorney General Tom Horne, Bennett announced that those voters who use the federal form and who cannot provide proof of U.S. citizenship will be able to vote only in federal races next year. Those who register with the state form will get a ballot that covers races on the local, state and federal level. An Arizona Republic review of statistics from the state’s 15 counties shows that the requirement, if in force today, would affect 1,327 of the state’s 3.2 million registered voters. The Republic obtained the information through the state’s public-records law.
Although the percentage of voters is small — 0.04 percent — the cost of establishing a dual-track election system is expected to be great. County elections officials have not come up with firm figures, although a spokesman for the Arizona Association of Counties said officials are expecting an increase in expenditures, which will be borne by the county governments.
An early estimate from Maricopa County, the state’s most populous, puts the figure “north of $250,000,” according to Karen Osborne, county elections director. “That doesn’t include the education part of it,” Osborne said.
Horne, who authored the opinion, said that although he’s sympathetic to concerns about the increased cost, it had no influence on his advice to Bennett. “For me, I look at the law,” he said.
After the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June, Bennett asked the Attorney General’s Office if people who use the federal form can vote in state and local elections. Horne issued an opinion saying “no,” since the voter- approved Proposition 200 requires citizenship proof and the court said Arizona has a right to impose those requirements for state and local races. That prompted Bennett to launch a dual-voting system.
Bennett acknowledged the looming cost to create separate sets of ballots, depending on how a voter is registered.
“Monetarily, it’s probably not worth it,” he said. But, he added, the state can’t ignore the small percentage of voters who qualify only for the federal ballot.
When Bennett announced the dual-track system last month, there was concern that anyone who registered using the federal form would be blocked from voting in local and state races. That’s not true, said Sam Wercinski, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network. Many people provide enough information on the federal form to allow state elections officials to verify their citizenship, he said.
“Continue to use the federal form. It’s as secure a means to registering and getting a local ballot as the state form,” Wercinski said. Anyone who provides the last four digits of his or her Social Security number — an optional requirement on the federal form — will likely be cleared to vote in state and local elections, he said.
Horne and Bennett agreed, saying the Social Security number allows elections officials to cross-reference that voter with the state’s driver’s license database. People must prove U.S. citizenship to get an Arizona driver’s license, and that citizenship proof would qualify them for a full ballot, they said.
In his opinion, Horne noted that the court suggested Arizona could ask the federal Election Assistance Commission to require proof of citizenship for all voter-registration forms, whether federal or state. Arizona, along with Kansas, is now arguing in federal court that it should have that authority. A hearing is scheduled for next month in Topeka, Kan. Horne said a favorable ruling would effectively end the need for a dual-track voting system.
But until the court rules, or if the court rules against Arizona, the two-track system will be needed, no matter how small the pool of affected voters. To do otherwise would allow unqualified voters to weigh in on state and local races, he said.
“There are a lot of races decided by fewer than 1,500 votes,” he said.
It’s likely that pool of federal-only voters will shrink from the current 1,327 because county recorders are trying to contact them and explain what documentation they need to provide to qualify for a full ballot. In addition to a driver’s license, documents that can be used to prove citizenship include a naturalization card, an Indian registration number or a birth certificate, elections officials said.