U.S. News

Arizona plans to require citizenship proof for state elections

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Arizona, long at odds with Washington over immigration policy, plans to require voters to show proof of citizenship to vote in state polls, even after it lost a high court battle to demand such documentation for federal elections.

The U.S. Supreme Court voted 7-2 in June to strike down a voter-registration law designed to stop illegal immigrants from casting ballots in the state, which borders Mexico and has been at the heart of the U.S. national battle over immigration.

The law had required would-be voters to show proof of citizenship both when registering to vote and when casting a ballot, but the court ruled that the measure was trumped by federal law.

On Monday, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne spelled out the new policy in an opinion issued in response to a request from Secretary of State Ken Bennett, seeking clarification in light of the top court’s ruling.

“Those who registered to vote using the federal form, which does not require evidence of citizenship, should not vote in state elections or sign petitions,” Horne, a Republican, concluded in the 16-page opinion.

But he said the rules outlined in the Arizona voter registration measure, Proposition 200, were still valid for local elections.

“Persons seeking to register to vote must comply with Proposition 200’s evidence of citizenship requirement in order to become ... eligible to vote in state and local elections and to sign candidates, initiative, referendum or recall petitions,” he added.

Arizona’s Republican leadership has taken a tough stance on illegal immigration. In 2010, Governor Jan Brewer signed a state law requiring police to question about their immigration status people that they stop and suspect of being in the country illegally.

Backers of Proposition 200, passed by voters in 2004, said the law was needed to fight voter fraud, although opponents said it unfairly deterred Latinos and Native Americans from registering to vote, as they sometimes struggled to come up with the required citizenship proofs.

State Democrats, who countered that Republicans who championed the measures aimed to make it harder for minority voters who tend to vote Democratic to cast ballots, said Horne’s opinion tested “absurdity and vindictiveness.”

“By recommending a two-track voting system, Horne will be creating a group of second-class voters in Arizona,” DJ Quinlan, the executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party, said in a statement.

“This will also create another confusing layer of bureaucracy to our voting system and potentially cost Arizona taxpayers millions of dollars.”

The only federal offices that will appear on Arizona ballots next year will be seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in the midterm congressional elections.

Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh