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Few voters use federal-only ballots

By: - January 9, 2019 11:47 am

An Arizona voter carries her ballot to a polling place to vote in the 2018 primary election in Phoenix. Photo by Ralph Freso | Getty Images

Only a small number of people in Arizona cast federal-only ballots in the 2018 election, an option that’s available for people who don’t provide proof of citizenship when they register to vote.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, 1,712 people voted using ballots that only had federal races. Of those voters, 899 were registered Democrats, 255 were Republicans and 558 were registered as independents or minor parties.

There are 11,904 active registered voters who are only eligible to vote in federal races. About 14 percent of those people turned out to vote in November, which saw record high turnout for a midterm election in Arizona. In November, 2,409,910 people voted in Arizona, the most in any election in state history except for the 2016 general election. Nearly 65 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

The number of federal-only voters who cast ballots in November wasn’t enough to have altered the outcomes of any races. In the U.S. Senate race, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema defeated Republican Martha McSally by 55,900 votes.

State law requires people to show proof of citizenship to register to vote, which voters approved as Proposition 200 in 2004. But the federal National Voter Registration Act of 1993 requires states to accept federal voter registration forms, which don’t have a proof-of-citizenship requirement, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that Arizona can’t reject those forms, despite the disparity between state and federal law on the issue.

As a result, then-Secretary of State Ken Bennett implemented a dual-registration system in which people who don’t show proof of citizenship can still register to vote in Arizona, but are only eligible to vote in federal races.

Since its inception, federal-only voting has been a subject of criticism among conservatives, many of whom view it as a method of sidestepping Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship requirement and potentially allowing non-citizens to vote. Cases of non-citizens voting are extremely rare.

State Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who chairs the House Elections Committee, is looking to address the issue of federal-only voters in the 2019 legislative session. She sponsored House Bill 2039, which would require county recorders to provide the secretary of state with the number of people who have registered to vote with the federal forms, and the number of those voters who cast ballots in each election. Recorders would also be required to post that number prominently on their websites.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”