Why Some Arizonans' Can Vote in Federal but Not State or Local Elections

August 25, 2014

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.