Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes contends that his state’s “bifurcated ballot system” requiring proof of citizenship to vote in state elections, but not federal ones, has worked effectively.

An oath of legal eligibility taken by voters for federal elections for Congress and president is entirely sufficient, Fontes says. 

“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.”

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

Last month, Arizona’s election system garnered increased scrutiny when billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk posted on his social media platform X, formerly Twitter: “Arizona clearly states that no proof of citizenship is required for federal elections.”

Although that’s technically correct, no other state requires proof of citizenship to vote in federal elections, either. Arizona, however, requires that proof before someone may vote in state and local elections.

That’s because in 2013, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in the case of Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Ariz. Inc. that the National Voter Registration Act, also known as the motor voter law, determined that every state must accept the same standardized voter registration forms for federal elections. However, the ruling, written by then-Justice Antonin Scalia, determined that Arizona law requiring proof of citizenship to vote could apply to state and local elections, but not federal ones. 

As a result, Arizona uses two different ballots for state and federal elections. An Arizona resident with documented proof of citizenship may vote using both ballots. An Arizona voter without proof of citizenship may still vote for president and Congress in a federal election. 

A total of 32,487 Arizona voters participate only in federal elections, according to a report in December from the news outlet Votebeat, which covers election administration. In the 2020 presidential election in Arizona, more than 5,600 federal-only voters voted, Just the News reported. 

Fontes, who took questions from The Daily Signal after speaking Tuesday at a National Association of Election Officials event in Washington, argues that keeping separate ballots isn’t a problem.

“We’ve got it all figured out,” Fontes said. “It’s one list [of voters] and we classify the voters with whether or not they’ve got their stuff [proof of citizenship]. We’ve been doing it for a while.”

Arizona’s secretary of state said there is no reason not to trust voters. 

“It’s interesting to me that folks don’t think that an oath is enough. I find that curiously doubtful and I find that disturbing,” Fontes told The Daily Signal. “If we are not going to take our fellow citizens at their word, if we are not going to trust at all—a little skepticism is OK, but this is the basis of our civil society. This is the basis of our courts and military service and everything else. We trust because that’s what we are required to do as a civilization. To inject all this mistrust constantly, this drumbeat of doubt, with zero evidence to back up the doubt, that’s what I have a problem with.”

But Fontes is allowing a loophole to become worse in Arizona’s voting system, countered Ken Cuccinelli, chairman of the Election Transparency Initiative, a watchdog group. 

“Leave it to the most radical, far-Left administration in the history of Arizona state government to exacerbate a loophole allowing noncitizens to vote in the state’s March GOP presidential primary,” Cuccinelli, a former Virginia attorney general who was acting deputy homeland security secretary in the Trump administration, told The Daily Signal in a written statement. 

“When it comes to illegal aliens who have flooded across our open border at unprecedented levels in recent years, so-called ‘honor systems’ don’t work—just like the system whereby those who have entered our country illegally are released from custody and allowed to resettle on a promise to appear at a court date months or years down the line,” Cuccinelli said. 

Specifically, Arizona’s proof of citizenship requirement, posted on the secretary of state’s website, says: “A person must be a U.S. citizen in order to register and vote.” 

But the provision goes on to say: “A person is not required to submit proof of citizenship with the voter registration form, but failure to do so means the person will only be eligible to vote in federal elections (known as being a ‘federal only’ voter). A ‘federal only’ voter will become eligible to vote a ‘full ballot’ in all federal, state, county and local elections if he or she later provides valid proof of citizenship to the appropriate County Recorder’s office.”

Arizona had a roadmap to bring the case before the Supreme Court again to reverse the 2013 decision, said J. Christian Adams, president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, an election integrity group. Multiple governors and secretaries of state never attempted to get the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s approval to require proof of citizenship to vote in federal elections. 

“Arizona did what they thought they should do after the Supreme Court case, to bifurcate the registration system,” Adams told The Daily Signal. “What they didn’t do—which Justice Scalia invited them to do—was try to have the EAC [Election Assistance Commission] approve state-level instructions for citizenship. Scalia said if they deny you, then bring the case back and we will overturn their denial. But Arizona never followed through and did that.” 

Adams also said that the problem of noncitizen voting in the United States doesn’t arise because of illegal immigrants but because of legal noncitizens with green cards and visas who either get swept up in voter registration drives or by errors at motor vehicle offices in states across the country, Adams added. 

“Historically, illegal aliens don’t want to walk into a voting office and register,” Adams told The Daily Signal. “It’s people who are here legally who get sucked into the system.”

“People who are here illegally are scared of the system,” he said. “They don’t want to get into it, so they hide. They hide in basements and railroad cars. They don’t go to a voter registration office. It’s people who are already here that are the problem.”

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