With dual-track voting, a single choice for some
Tuesday's primary election is a busy one for voters, with a six-way Republican contest for governor, a two-way race for the GOP nomination for attorney general and a bevy of other statewide, legislative and local races.
But for up to 1,500 Arizona voters, the ballot will look surprisingly short: They will have just one race on which to vote.
It marks a new chapter in Arizona elections, in which the state is distinguishing between voters who showed documents proving they are U.S. citizens and those who signed a sworn statement attesting to their citizenship.
Those who provided the documents, such as an Arizona driver's license, will get the full statewide ballot, from governor to Legislature to town council.
But for those who used the federal voter-registration form, their only vote will be for a congressional candidate — assuming there is a candidate running in their party's primary. There is not a U.S. Senate or presidential race this year.
The change is expected to affect no more than 1,500 voters, probably far fewer, according to elections officials. But it will come at a sizable cost to some counties, which have to shoulder the price of printing separate ballots for the "federal only" voters.
In Maricopa County, the cost is estimated at $250,000 for both the primary and the general election.
In northern Arizona's Coconino County, the cost is $66,471 to accommodate 22 voters, according to Recorder Patty Hansen.
In Pima County, Election Director Brad Nelson said voters' experience at the polls will be "substantially different" than the last time they cast ballots.
"Visually, it will be very different," he said, noting up to 500 voters could get the ballot with only one race on it.
The so-called dual-track election is the result of a policy change that Secretary of State Ken Bennett put in place following a legal opinion last year from Attorney General Tom Horne.
It's intended to honor the will of voters statewide, who in 2004 decided Arizonans would need to show tangible proof of citizenship in order to vote.
Bennett sought legal advice after the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2013 ruled Arizona cannot demand documents proving citizenship from people who use the federal voter-registration form, saying it would infringe on federal law. That form requires people to affirm, under penalty of perjury, that they are U.S. citizens.
In his legal opinion, Horne said the state would be best advised to create a two-track system, with one ballot for those using the state registration form and another for people who don't provide documents proving citizenship.
Since then, elections officials have been working to help voters comply with the state's tighter requirements, advising them to bring in birth certificates or an Arizona driver's license issued after 1996 to prove they're U.S. citizens. (In 1996, the state started requiring citizenship proof before granting driver's licenses.)
An Arizona Republic survey of the 15 counties, using the state's public-records law, found 1,479 voters qualify for a federal-only ballot. The biggest number, 811, is in Maricopa County, while smaller counties such as Apache, Greenlee and Santa Cruz say they have no voters who will need the separate, shorter ballot.
Sam Wercinski, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network, said he's concerned about confusion at the polls but said the use of technology, such as electronic poll books, should ease a lot of worries.
The poll books, which will be used in Maricopa County and a few other counties, contain a centralized record of how the voter is registered and therefore which ballot he or she qualifies for.
But he lamented the fact Arizona is establishing the two-track system, saying it would have been better to pour the time and money into expanding voter outreach.
The Secretary of State's Office used federal Help America Vote Act dollars to create the software to identify which voters get which ballot.
Instead of using the money to create what he believes are barriers to voting, it could have been used to expand voting, said Wercinski, whose group has been at the forefront on election matters.
"That was the whole idea of HAVA money: to help Americans vote," he said.
In Coconino County, Hansen questioned the extra cost, given that she said she was not aware of a single case where a non-U.S. citizen had attempted to vote.
"With limited dollars, is it worth it to spend all this money?" she asked. "It's real money."
The system may not stand, as the underlying case to allow states to impose their own voter-registration requirements on federal elections continues.
A federal appeals court in Denver will hear arguments today on the matter.
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