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At least 5,600 federal-only ballots cast in Arizona 2020 election without US citizenship proof

Arizona is “one of the only states to have bifurcated elections,” said former Arizona Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Wright.

Published: December 9, 2023 11:45pm

More than 5,600 federal-only ballots were cast in the 2020 presidential election in Arizona, without proof of U.S. citizenship required by the voters who cast them, according to data from the state's counties. 

Arizona is a state with the unusual situation of bifurcated elections, in which residents who provide proof of U.S. citizenship can vote in all elections while the others may vote only in federal elections, resulting in ballots cast by voters who haven’t proven their U.S. citizenship. 

Arizona law requires residents registering to vote in the state to provide proof of U.S. citizenship

However, after the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that Arizona must accept U.S. voter registration forms because of federal requirements under the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, the state allows residents registering to vote who don't provide proof of citizenship to receive ballots for federal races only. 

Federal voter registration forms require those filling them out only to sign a sworn declaration that they are U.S. citizens.  

When residents of Arizona register to vote or update their registration, an election system accesses their driver's license records to verify whether they have proof of citizenship.

Those without documentation are ineligible to vote in state elections and registered as "federal-only" voters, according to the Associated Press.   

Last year, Arizona enacted a law that requires counties to check federal-only voters for citizenship against multiple databases. The counties must reject any federal applications if they find the individual is not a U.S. citizen, and any official knowingly ignoring the requirement could receive a felony charge.  

The Justice Department sued Arizona over the law in July 2022, claiming it is "a textbook violation of the National Voter Registration Act," according to Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the agency's Civil Rights Division. The agency also claims the law violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  

Former Arizona Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Wright told Just the News on Thursday that she believes Arizona is “one of the only states to have bifurcated elections” because the U.S. Election Assistance Commission didn’t allow the state to require driver’s licenses for voter registration, despite other states having the requirement. 

Wright said that when a person registers to vote, their name is supposed to be compared to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ SAVE database by county recorders to determine if they’re non-citizens. 

While there is not a system in place to ensure that the recorders are checking for non-citizens when registering voters, state law requires them to only register residents and certify that the voter roster is correct, she added, citing A.R.S. 16-183 and A.R.S. 16-169A

If non-citizens register to vote before becoming naturalized citizens, then it could hinder their naturalization. 

In fact, according to a report by the Public Interest Legal Foundation earlier this year, the most likely reason for a foreign national to admit that they have been registered to vote is that "they want to remain in the United States as future naturalized citizens." 

In the naturalization application process, foreign nationals are asked whether they have prematurely registered to vote. If there are voter registration records, then "they are often ordered by immigration officials to get said records cancelled," according to the report

PILF’s report also found that in Maricopa County, voter registrations for 222 foreign nationals have been canceled since 2015, with nine of them casting 12 ballots over four federal elections. 

Below is a list of 13 of the 15 Arizona counties that provided information to Just the News regarding the number of federal-only ballots cast in the 2020 and 2022 general elections and the number of federal-only voters registered in both elections. 

Apache County didn’t provide Just the News with the requested information, despite multiple requests.

Cochise County required a public records request to obtain the information and informed Just the News on Wednesday that the request for the federal-only ballots and voter information was no. 125 in the queue. 

However, according to state law, “the county recorder shall report to the secretary of state and shall prominently post on the recorder's website the number of persons who are registered to vote using the federal or state voter registration form and who have not provided proof of citizenship to the county recorder and, after each general election, shall post on the recorder's website the number of ballots cast by those persons who were eligible to vote a ballot containing federal offices only.” 

At least 5,697 federal-only ballots were cast in the 2020 presidential election in Arizona, most of which came from Maricopa County. Only some of the counties specified as to whether all the federal-only ballots cast were also accepted. 

The 2020 presidential election results showed former President Donald Trump with 10,457 votes less than President Joe Biden in the state. 

Information for some counties regarding federal-only registered voters came from the numbers reported to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office about a month before the elections, which includes both active and inactive voters (specified below as “all federal-only voters”). Other counties provided federal-only registered voters that were active. Voters are eventually moved to ‘inactive’ status if voting materials sent to their address are returned undeliverable. 

Apache County: 

  • All federal-only voters registered in 2020: 162 
  • All federal-only voters registered in 2022: 97 

Cochise County: 

  • All federal-only voters registered in 2020: 288 
  • All federal-only voters registered in 2022: 297 

Coconino County:  

  • Federal-only ballots accepted and counted in 2020: 335 
  • Federal-only ballots accepted and counted in 2022: 116 
  • All federal-only voters registered in 2020: 2,381 
  • All federal-only voters registered in 2022: 2,841 

Gila County:  

  • Federal-only ballots cast and accepted in 2020: 23 
  • Federal-only ballots cast and accepted in 2022: 5 
  • All federal-only voters registered in 2020: 88 
  • All federal-only voters registered in 2022: 67 

Graham County:  

  • Federal-only ballots cast and counted in 2020: 8 
  • Federal-only ballots cast and counted in 2022: 5 
  • All federal-only voters registered in 2020: 40 
  • All federal-only voters registered in 2022: 45 

Greenlee County:  

  • Federal-only ballots cast in 2020 and accepted: 4 
  • Federal-only ballots cast in 2022 and accepted: 1 
  • All federal-only voters registered in 2020: 9 
  • All federal-only voters registered in 2022: 6 

La Paz County:  

  • Federal-only ballots cast in 2020: 11 
  • Federal-only ballots cast in 2022: 0 
  • All federal-only voters registered in 2020: 27 
  • All federal-only voters registered in 2022: 16 

Maricopa County 

  • Federal-only ballots cast in 2020: 8,114, with 4,484 of those accepted and counted 
  • Federal-only ballots cast in 2022: 2,749 
  • Federal-only voters registered in 2020: 14,298 
  • All federal-only voters registered in 2022: 27,441 

Mohave County:  

  • Federal-only ballots cast in 2020: 257 
  • Federal-only ballots cast in 2022: 80 
  • All federal-only voters registered in 2020: 707 
  • All federal-only voters registered in 2022: 484 

Navajo County:  

  • Federal-only ballots cast and counted in 2020: 14 
  • Federal-only ballots cast and counted in 2022: 2 
  • Federal-only voters registered in 2020: 46 
  • Federal-only voters registered in 2022: 82 

Pima County:  

Pinal County:  

  • Federal-only ballots accepted and counted in 2020: 96 
  • Federal-only ballots accepted and counted in 2022: 49 
  • All federal-only voters registered in 2020: 1,369 
  • All federal-only voters registered in 2022: 1,233 

Santa Cruz County:  

  • Federal-only ballots cast in 2020: 7 
  • Federal-only ballots cast in 2022: 5 
  • Federal-only voters registered in 2020: 30 
  • Federal-only voters registered in 2022: 30 

Yavapai County:  

  • Federal-only ballots cast and accepted in 2020: 279 
  • Federal-only ballots cast and accepted in 2022: 63 
  • Federal-only voters registered in 2020: 509 
  • Federal-only voters registered in 2022: 226 

Yuma County:  

  • Federal-only ballots cast in 2020: 179 
  • Federal-only ballots cast in 2022: 53 
  • Federal-only voters registered in 2020: 333 
  • Federal-only voters registered in 2022: 403 

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