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How Battleground Arizona Tackles Noncitizens on Voter Rolls

Fred Lucas : Feb 28, 2024
The Daily Signal

Arizona requires proof of citizenship to vote in state elections. Because of the National Voter Registration Act, however, it can't impose that same requirement during federal elections...

[] Arizona's second-largest jurisdiction provides a glimpse into the battleground state's obstacles in keeping dual voter lists, an election watchdog group says. (Image: Pixabay)

Pima County—the second-largest county, including the state's second-largest city, Tucson—has removed a total of 186 noncitizens from its voter registration lists since 2021, according to data gathered by the Public Interest Legal Foundation

Of the 186 names removed, seven are recorded as having voted during two federal elections, the data shows. 

"Federal law hampers states' abilities to validate citizenship during the voter registration process," J. Christian Adams, president of Public Interest Legal Foundation, said in a written statement.

Arizona requires proof of citizenship to vote in state elections. Because of the National Voter Registration Act, however, it can't impose that same requirement during federal elections, the US Supreme Court ruled. That law often is called the Motor Voter Act.

"The federal government could update Motor Voter to allow states to require proof of citizenship and add citizenship to Motor Voter's reasonable list maintenance requirements," Adams said. "Arizona is limited to building imperfect systems to address the problem of foreign national voting."

Arizona, which Donald Trump carried in the 2016 presidential election but Joe Biden carried in 2020, is a closely watched battleground state in 2024

"Roughly 65% of records came from 'political parties and group drives,'" the report from the legal foundation says. "Although conclusions in other studies established that organizers of voter registration drives can be left leaning, the party affiliations of the registrants within the Pima [County] disclosure are more varied."

The report goes on to note: "Arizona has a somewhat better system. Arizona officials have tools to identify some potential foreign registrants to make contact and correct the record before an immigrant runs the risk of more legal trouble."

As detailed in my book "The Myth of Voter Suppression," voter list maintenance is a problem across the country that includes noncitizens, registered voters who have died, and those who no longer live in a jurisdiction but are still listed as registered to vote. 

A spokesperson for Pima County Recorder Gabriella Cázares-Kelly, who oversees voter registration in the county, didn't respond immediately to an inquiry from The Daily Signal for this story.

Last year, a similar analysis by Public Interest Legal Foundation found that Arizona's largest jurisdiction, Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, canceled the registration of 222 voters since 2015, voters who had a total of nine recorded votes.

It is a federal felony to vote as a noncitizen.

The foundation's report contends that in many cases, noncitizens likely didn't intend to register to vote, but rather were registered without asking when getting driver's license. In other cases, noncitizens were approached by an independent political group in a voter registration drive.

"The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (Motor Voter) provides the most common pathway for foreign nationals to get registered to vote," the report says. "The 24 states plus DC which automate Motor Voter, not giving the immigrant the chance to decline registration, exacerbate the problem."

Border states also have more legal immigrants moving back and forth, Public Interest Legal Foundation says in the report.

"Finally, battleground states with a high number of third-party voter registration drives can expose immigrants to improperly getting registered to vote," the report says. "Every scenario where a foreign national encounters Motor Voter protocols creates risk for premature voter registration."

In an interview earlier this month with The Daily Signal, Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes said keeping dual registration lists—one for state and local elections, the other for federal elections—has worked in securing Arizona from noncitizen voting.

"We have the strictest regime in the country when it comes to noncitizens not being able to vote," Fontes, a Democrat elected in 2022, told The Daily Signal. "We have a system where documented proof of citizenship has to be submitted [for state and local elections], and it's a very cumbersome system. That's what the law requires and we'll continue to follow it. It's far more thorough than we see just about anywhere." Subscribe for free to Breaking Christian News here

Fred Lucas is chief news correspondent and manager of the Investigative Reporting Project for The Daily Signal.