LULAC v. Reagan
LULAC v. Reagan
Democracy works best when all citizens can vote without barriers. CLC believes all eligible voters should be able to register to vote easily and without bureaucratic hurdles. That is why CLC, along with Lawyers’ Committee and private co-counsel, are representing the League of Latin American Citizens Arizona (LULAC-Arizona) and Arizona Students’ Association (ASA) in challenging Arizona’s onerous and confusing voter registration policies.
What’s Going On In Arizona?
In most states, when an individual wants to register to vote, they can fill out a state voter registration form or a federal voter registration form, and no matter which they fill out, they will be able to vote in state and federal elections. The process is easy and straightforward. But in Arizona, the voter registration system is far more confusing, resulting in tens of thousands of people who think they are registered to vote being disenfranchised when they try to vote. The difference is an additional proof of citizenship requirement and how Arizona chooses to enforce it. In Arizona, if a person wants to register to vote in both state and federal elections, they must attach specific documents – such as a birth certificate – proving citizenship.
But the Supreme Court has held that Arizona cannot add that document requirement for federal elections because every state has to accept the federal form. The federal form includes an attestation, under penalty of perjury, that the person is a citizen and resident of the state in which they are registering to vote. This requirement ensures one easy and clear way to register eligible citizens to vote in federal elections nationwide.
Arizona has created a “dual registration system” and its design disenfranchises tens of thousands of Arizonans. Now, in Arizona, which registration form a person fills out determines whether they successfully registered to vote in federal elections. If a person fills out a federal form and does not attach proof of citizenship documents, they are able to vote in federal elections. If a person fills out a state form, and does not attach proof of citizenship documents, they are unable to vote in any election, neither state nor federal – even though they met the requirements to vote in federal elections. But the state does not tell registrants this. The state’s failure to publicize the option of the federal form violates a prior federal court order. This complicated and intentionally evasive dual registration system is depriving eligible voters of their right to vote in federal elections.
Just as important, the state’s documentary proof of citizenship requirement is depriving eligible voters of the ability to vote in both state and federal elections when the state already has a citizen’s documentary proof of citizenship. The state has the ability to use the state’s motor vehicles division database to check proof of citizenship for individuals but it chooses not to do so, disenfranchising thousands. The Maricopa County Recorder has announced that he is conducting these checks and has been able to register eligible citizens as a result. But the Secretary of State opposes this commonsense solution and plans to introduce policies to stop him from helping Arizonans vote.
What’s at Stake?
At least 26,000 voters in Maricopa County alone, and thousands of others across the state, have been disenfranchised by Arizona’s policies. Maricopa is the largest county in Arizona. And less than fifteen percent of a sample of potential voters whose registrations were rejected under these policies were able to register at a later date. In 2016, thousands of voters showed up at the polls believing they were registered and found out they were not. Their votes were not counted.
State registration policies should make it easier, not harder, to vote. Arizona has a rate of voter registration and voter turnout that lags behind the already low national average. Arizona should be working to increase voter participation, not suppress it. Arizona’s unnecessary policies have made voter registration drives practically impossible to run efficiently and effectively. CLC’s clients, LULAC and ASA, struggle to run successful voter registration drives across the state. These unnecessary and confusing policies have fallen particularly hard on young voters in Arizona, who are new voters and often take advantage of voter registration drives to register to vote.
Arizona should return to a system that is fair and makes voting accessible for all citizens. Through their lawsuit, LULAC and ASA, represented by CLC and co-counsel, are working to remove these unnecessary barriers to political participation.