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Amid a failed attempt by supporters of former President Donald Trump to throw out the state’s 2020 election results based on false accusations of voter fraud, Republicans who control Arizona’s state legislature and governor’s office passed significant new obstacles to voting. 

New laws allow for the purging of names from the state’s mail-in ballot voting list if a resident misses two consecutive election cycles and requires proof of citizenship to register to vote. 

Indigenous leaders in the state say the proof of citizenship requirement specifically targets the elders of their community.

“Something like this is a concern for Indigenous elders because, you know, some of our Indigenous elders were born traditionally and may not even have a birth certificate,” said Allie Young, the founder of Protect The Sacred and a member of the Navajo Nation. “This is another case of having nothing and being seen as less than, and having to prove citizenship in a country that is our ancestral homelands.” 

DOJ challenges citizenship requirement

After President Joe Biden became the first Democrat to win Arizona since 1996 and only the second since 1948, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a series of measures to prevent voter fraud they haven’t proven exists.

Even though it didn’t exist in the state, state officials specifically banned same-day voter registration, widely seen as an important measure for assuring low-income citizens have access to voting. 

The new requirement, mandates voters to provide proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, be shown to register, creating one of the most onerous barriers to participate in elections in the country. Other acceptable forms of proof specified by the legislature include a passport, a marriage certificate, U.S. naturalization documents, or a tribal card number. 

The U.S. Department of Justice, which has called the citizenship requirement a “textbook violation” of the National Voter Registration Act, is suing Arizona to overturn the requirement.

About this series

This project looks at the state of voting access, voting rights and inequities in political representation in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

A similar law adopted in Kansas, championed by former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who chaired Trump’s ill-fated voter fraud commission in 2017, was ruled unconstitutional and thrown out by a federal court. 

Another concern pertaining  to the proof of citizenship requirement for Indigenous communities is how the law impacts people who live on reservations. Young said she doesn’t have an address on her driver’s license. Instead, she has a post office box number listed, so she wonders if people will have to get a post office box just to be able to obtain the qualifying ID. If so, that disqualifies many people in her community and the houseless communities. 

“To this day on reservations, we’re still dealing with not having paved roads and street names, and it’s very complicated when they’re trying to enforce [address requirement],” Young said. “If I didn’t have this P.O. Box number on my driver’s license, it would pretty much have directions to my home… They’ve asked, well, what is the exact address, and I’m like, there’s not one. And that’s what we deal with in our communities.” 

Purging voters from mail ballot list

Arizona is the rare Republican-controlled state that has universal access to mail-in voting. It sends every eligible registered voter who opts in a mail-in ballot automatically.

But under the state’s new “Active Early Voting List,” which replaces the state’s “Permanent Early Voting List,” voters who were automatically sent a mail-in ballot cannot miss two consecutive election cycles; otherwise, they will be removed from the list.  

This has alarmed many communities across the state, given the popularity of mail-in ballots. Over the last few election cycles, over two-thirds of Arizona voters have voted by mail, according to the Brennan Center for Justice

“Those who live in rural parts of the reservation, it’s already difficult for many of our people to vote,” Young said. “Just with all of the barriers that exist. The long distances to the polling locations and the infrequent drop box locations for ballots. With all of that, it already makes it difficult for our people to get to places where they can cast their votes. On top of requiring them to do that every election and being purged if they’re not. That to me is voter suppression.”

Indigenous people are almost 5.5% of Arizona’s population.  

Initiative would reverse restrictions

This fall, Arizona voters were going to have the opportunity to vote on an initiative that would have expanded voting rights, reformed campaign finance laws, and repealed most of the election laws passed over the last two years.

However, over the last few months, courts in Arizona have kept the ballot measure in limbo for the November ballot. To qualify for the ballot, organizers of the initiative — known as the Arizona Fair Elections Act — had until July 7 to submit petitions with at least 237,645 valid signatures from registered voters.

Our Voice Our Vote, an advocacy group for voters of color in Arizona, spearheaded the petition drive, and said they gathered more than 475,000 signatures — more than double what was required.

Everything looked to be headed in the right direction until August. The lower courts ruled that all signature requirements and qualifications were met. But after an appeal was filed by right-wing conservative groups such as the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, the Arizona Supreme Court stepped in and said many of the signatures were invalid, taking away 238,000 of them. That ruling ensured the petition fell short by just 1,458 signatures.

That decision came the day after a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled the petition had 2,281 more valid signatures needed to appear on the ballot. But since the state Supreme Court said it couldn’t determine the “invalidity rate” used by the lower court, it nixed the initiative from the general election ballot.

Attempts to overturn voting results

There are concerns across the state of Arizona that the will of voters in future elections will be ignored and that election results will be overturned by Republican leaders who have advanced right-wing conspiracy theories. 

It almost happened after the 2020 election. 

After many outside conservative actors swarmed the state alleging that there was voter fraud, Republicans tried for months to throw out the results of the presidential election in Arizona.

Biden won the state by 10,457 votes, a margin of only three-tenths of 1%. In early 2021, Republican State Senate Pres­id­ent Karen Fann ordered an audit of the 2020 pres­id­en­tial results in Mari­copa County, home to Phoenix — the fast-growing county in the country and home to a significant Black and Latino population. 

Even after a partisan and deeply flawed audit, there was no evidence of voter fraud. 

That didn’t stop Republicans across the state from lying about the report’s results. Attorney General Mark Brnovich claimed there were seri­ous vulner­ab­il­it­ies found in the report. Fann even went as far as demanding the election results be uncertified. 

Fann has since received a subpoena by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as it conducts an investigation into the violent attack by Trump supporters on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. 

Felony disenfranchisement

Arizona is one of 10 states that permanently strips some citizens’ voting rights after they are convicted of felonies. 

People in prison on a felony conviction or on probation or parole cannot vote. When a person is convicted of their first felony, their voting rights are automatically restored after they complete their sentence. However, if they receive another felony, their voting rights are permanently taken away, unless the judge that initially sentenced them grants them back their voting rights — which is rare. 

The Arizona law has disenfranchised an estimated 221,170 people in the state. Black Americans are paying the highest price. One out of five Black residents in Arizona are not allowed to vote because of this law, the second highest rate in the country

It used to be worse. Before a change in state law in 2019, first-time felons had to pay off any outstanding fines related to their conviction before voting rights would be restored. 

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DeArbea Walker is a freelance digital journalist who’s covered everything from the intersection of...