An Arizona election official has hired additional staff to help get voters registered, arguing that an existing state law meant to create hurdles in the registration process is morally “wrong on its face,” and pointing out that slavery was once considered legally justified.
Arizona law requires that officials reject state voter application forms from people who do not provide proof of citizenship. But Maricopa County recorder Adrian Fontes has hired additional staff to sort through 100,000 rejected applications and cross-check them with the state Department of Motor Vehicles for proof of citizenship. (Arizona has required proof of citizenship to get a driver’s license since 1996.)
Out of a sample group of 74 forms that Fontes’ office checked against DMV data, they found 43 citizens who were eligible voters but who had been rejected for not providing proof of citizenship, he said.
Joe Kanefield, the state elections director in the Arizona secretary of state’s office when the proof-of-citizenship law was passed in 2004, suggested that Fontes was not adhering to the law.
“I think (his actions) would be very problematic,” Kanefield told The Arizona Republic. “He would be acting outside his powers carefully scripted by statute.”
But Fontes, who oversees voter registration for Arizona’s most populous county, said that just because the literal language of the law reads a certain way, that doesn’t mean it is morally right.
“People thought, ‘Well, slavery is the law, it therefore must be right.’ Some people are reading this and saying, ‘Well, denying American citizens the right to vote is how we read the law ― it therefore must be right,’” Fontes told HuffPost. “There’s a false equivalence there. It’s just wrong. It’s wrong on its face.”
The 2004 measure says that the “county recorder shall reject any application for registration that is not accompanied by satisfactory evidence of United States citizenship.” The law initially applied to all voter registrations, but in 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that the state could not require applicants to provide proof of citizenship on a federal voter registration form.
Fontes insists he’s on “solid legal ground,” and said that if voters register using a federal form, he’s required to check their information with the DMV. He said he hasn’t heard from other officials yet, but expects legal action from “someone who wants to keep American citizens from voting.”
“Keeping people from voting when all of the information is already there ― I mean, we’re a couple of keystrokes away,” he said. “I don’t understand the motive for keeping American citizens from voting. I don’t understand the motive.”
“The only thing we’re doing is enabling American citizens to vote. Period. We’re not adding new people on who don’t belong on the voter rolls. We’re not doing anything extraordinary,” he went on. “We’re not doing anything outside of what’s expected outside of the balance of other voter registration.”
Two other Arizona county recorders told The Arizona Republic that their offices simply rejected forms that did not contain proof of citizenship.
F. Ann Rodriguez, the Democratic county recorder in Pima County, told the Republic that she thought any clarification to voter registration procedures should be handled via legislation.
“I understand where Adrian is coming from,” she said. “I think as a group we need to address that. But I don’t think it should be addressed in the procedures manual. I think it should be addressed at the state Capitol.”
Fontes said he doesn’t understand why taking additional action to make sure people are registered to vote should be controversial.
“We’re just curing the balance of what’s a minor technical problem with some of these forms, as far as I see it,” he said. “I don’t see why that’s a problem. I literally can’t fathom in my mind why any public or private citizen of the United States would want to deny another citizen the right to vote.”