Proposed Dual Voting System Gets Mixed Reviews

October 11, 2013

In recent terms, Arizona’s been making itself quite at home at the U.S. Supreme Court. In June, a 7-2 majority ruled that Arizona cannot demand proof of citizenship from people who register to vote using a federal form, even though Arizona has a state form that requires just that, and the high court upheld the requirements of that form which voters approved in 2004. Some, including Attorney General Tom Horne, were not happy with the court’s decision. Earlier this week, Horne issued an opinion saying that the federal form was okay for federal elections but that Arizona was free to limit voters who want to use the federal form from voting in statewide races including the biggies like governor and, oh, attorney general.

Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who is running for governor, said two registration systems might make life more difficult for election officials, but the court put Arizona in this position.

"I don’t think we’re looking at enough voters in this pool or category to cause massive problems in the whole system, but it will be an extra burden that we’d rather not have to deal with, but sometimes you have to do things because the courts have said things that are a little different from what the people have said," Bennett said.

"I think it puts us in a silly position," said Attorney Andy Gordon, an expert in Arizona election law.

He said the opinion may work politically for Horne, but it does not seem based in legal precedent.

"One of the interesting things when you read the opinion itself is every case it cites in which the state has tried to use a dual registration, dual election system has been struck down. So he wants us to embark on a system that no state has ever been able to successfully implement," said Gordon.

Gordon said the dual voting system will undoubtedly put Arizona in court again, but he hopes it does not even get that far.

"My hunch is that it’s a very high likelihood that a court would block it. I would actually hope, though, that the elected officials who are responsible for paying for these things would stop it. Between the costs of a lawsuit and the cost of running parallel elections at the same time and having to print multiple ballots, this is literally going to cost millions of dollars," Gordon said.

But let’s assume for a moment that the system is implemented and goes into effect for next August’s primaries for congressional and state seats. Who benefits politically? Rudy Espino is a political science professor at Arizona State University.

"This is just Politics 101. These are the folks in charge. They’re going to write the rules and regulations to try to advantage their party," Espino said. "Whether it be what we see going on in Arizona with respect to how we vote or with respect to how we see a budget getting passed in Congress, it’s Democrats pitted against Republicans appealing to those voters who support them and keep them in office."

So will Latino voters come out in force, seeing the system as a voter suppression effort, and have the impact pundits have been expecting?

"This change to our voting process might be revved up. You could imagine a campaign appeal from Bennett and Horne saying this is our mandate, this our platform," Espino said. "Conversely on the other side, you could see Latino voters and particularly those organizations that seek to help with civil rights of Latino voters making an appeal saying, ‘Look, you need to turn out, because your vote matters, and if you don’t vote, such laws will continue to be passed that will disadvantage people like you.'"

Election officials have estimated that the dual voting system would cost an extra $250,000 in Maricopa County. That is not including potential legal fees if and when suits are filed to prevent its implementation.