A two-year-old law intended to keep illegal immigrants from voting has blocked thousands of Maricopa County residents from casting ballots because they can’t prove U.S. citizenship.
So far this year, the county has rejected one out of every six new voter registration requests because they lacked proof of citizenship, said Yvonne Reed, a spokeswoman for the county recorder’s office.
Most were probably legal citizens who filled out the registration forms but didn’t have the proper identification for one reason or another, she said.
The high number of rejections stems from the passage of Proposition 200, a law approved by voters in 2004 that requires people to show a driver’s license or two other forms of identification before they register to vote or cast a ballot.
The changes have baffled Arizonans for the past two years. In fact, the problem was worse a year ago.
This year, 28,467 people filed voting registration applications with Maricopa County. Of those, 4,903 — or 17 percent — were rejected because they lacked proof of citizenship, according to county officials. While the numbers remain high, they are down from last year when 35 percent of the applications were disqualified.
“I think people are beginning to understand what they need to have when they register,” Reed said. Once a request is denied, the county notifies the applicants that they’ve been rejected and tells them how to reapply, she said.
Monday was the deadline to register for the Sept. 12 primary. The deadline for the general election is Oct. 9.
If registered voters fail to show identification at the polling site, their ballot will only count if they show the proper identification later.
Since the new law went into effect, state and local officials have worked to inform voters of the stricter guidelines. The Arizona Secretary of State’s Office launched a campaign this year to remind voters to bring identification to the polls.
Still, with the general election coming up in November — the first statewide election since the passage of Prop. 200 — critics of the law say they’re concerned thousands of legitimate citizens could be kept from voting.
Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Phoenix, said the law might be intended to target illegal immigrants but also impacts the most vulnerable people in society — the elderly and the poor.
“For many of these people, it’s not easy to get identification,” she said.
Supporters say the voting rules were necessary to protect the integrity of elections.
Rep. Russell Pearce, RMesa, said the massive protests that drew thousands of Hispanics into the streets of Phoenix last spring were evidence of a plot to register illegal immigrants.
“They marched under the banner of ‘Today we march, tomorrow we vote,’ ” he said. “There is a massive effort under way to register illegal aliens in the country.”
Pearce said the voting requirements are “fair and reasonable” and argued that most residents should be able to provide photo identification.
According to county records, about 8 percent of voters avoid showing a photo when they register, using other forms of identification instead such as an electric bill and Social Security card. Maricopa County isn’t alone in rejecting voter registrations.
In neighboring Pinal County, about 8 percent of new requests were rejected, election officials said. F. Ann Rodriguez, the recorder for Pima County, said 6 percent of new registration requests were rejected this year.