States Plan Two-Tier Voting System to Get Round Federal ID Rules

Saturday, 12 Oct 2013 10:16 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Arizona plans to join Kansas in implementing a two-tier voting system with more stringent identification rules for state and local elections than for federal ballots.

The move could keep tens of thousands from voting during next year's governors' elections in the two states, The New York Times reports.

Meanwhile, the reliably-Republican states have also filed a joint lawsuit against the federal Election Assistance Commission, saying the federal voter registration form for their states should also include state citizenship requirements.

"If you require evidence of citizenship, it helps prevent people who are not citizens from voting, and I simply don’t see a problem with that," Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne told the Times.

The move is part of a struggle between the two major parties. Democrats seek to make voting easier and to bring out more minority voters — who tend to vote for Democratic candidates. Meanwhile, Republicans say they want more proof of citizenship and to increase identification requirements, which Democrats complain inhibits voting.

A two-tier system, though, is costly and can be prone to confusion, and could hinder efforts by Democrats to pick up local and state seats where Republicans have been in control in recent years.

"It is quite likely going to disenfranchise a number of voters," Julie Ebenstein, a lawyer with the Voting Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union in New York, told Bloomberg News.  "It is going to cause a lot of expense to county election officials and confusion."

On Monday, Horne told county election officials to draw up separate rolls for voters using the federal form and for those using a state form. In Maricopa County, the state's largest, 900 people could not provide the necessary forms to get on the state roll, the Times reported.

Matt Roberts, spokesman for Arizona's Republican Secretary of State Ken Bennett, admitted it is a challenge adding yet another separate ballot, and that his boss supports requiring proof of citizenship for all elections.

"The last thing any poll worker wants is to have to tell someone who might be voting for the first time why they can’t vote for governor," said Roberts.

Two other states, Mississippi and Illinois, have tried dual voting systems, but neither experiment worked. In Illinois, an appellate court said the system was unconstitutional because it was too restrictive, and in Mississippi, the plan was found to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act, making it and eight other states, including Arizona, get federal approval before they changed their election laws.

But the Supreme Court struck down the federal permission provision in June,  leaving states such as Arizona able to change election laws without first seeking federal permission.

Voters in all states have two different forms they can fill out. The federal form, which was created as part of the “Motor Voter Law” that was intended to make registration easier, applicants check a box swearing that they are citizens, under penalty of perjury, but don't have to provide physical proof. State forms, however, require stricter rules, including submitting documents such as a birth certificate, passport or naturalization papers to prove citizenship.

In Kansas, about 18,000 people, have had their voter registrations suspended for not providing proof of citizenship, the Times reported.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a former state GOP chairman, said he decided to suspend the registrations so people could fill out a form and send in documents later. The two-tiered election plan, he said, will be used if Kansas and Arizona don't win their lawsuit to change the forms.

Related Articles:

Presidential Campaigns Target New Citizen Voters

WSJ: Holder Works to Undo High-Court Voting-Rights Decision


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