Arizonans went home to stunning news last Thursday when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals announced it was suspending new state election rules that require proof of citizenship to register to vote and photo identification to cast ballots in person (rather than by mail).
The injunction by a three-judge panel was delivered on the same day as the start of early voting for the Nov. 7 general election, and only five days before the deadline to register to vote this year. We can’t imagine a worse timing for this, as county and state election officials will be trapped in limbo about who’s eligible to vote while state Attorney General Terry Goddard files emergency appeals to either the full circuit court or directly to the Supreme Court.
The Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona and the Arizona Civil Liberties Union are leading a collection of groups challenging the voting provisions of the 2004 initiative called Protect Arizona Now. Voters approved the measure targeting illegal immigrants by a wide margin. But critics of photo identification and proof of citizenship argue citizens who lack easy access to right documents — the poor, the elderly and rural members of Indian tribes — have been denied one of their most fundamental rights.
The federal courts previously had upheld the initiative, but that was before the voter identification rules actually went in effect. Now the critics are back, as counties have turned away an estimated 21,000 people at voter registration who didn’t have proof of citizenship, even though it’s not clear how many of those people might have returned later with the correct documents.
These critics also have a found a handful of people who had trouble voting in the September primaries because they tried to use photo identification or the paper alternatives without a correct street address. But this ignores the fact that any such voter was entitled to cast a provisional ballot and appear within three days at the county election office with proper identification for the ballot to be counted.
The two judges who issued Thursday’s injunction didn’t explain their reasoning. But there were no reports of widespread problems during the primaries, and issuing an injunction now has created unnecessary confusion about what voters will need to do to fulfill their civic responsibility.