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Arizona student partly disenfranchised by proof-of-citizenship law

Had civil rights groups not challenged the law in the Supreme Court, he would not have been able to vote at all.

Voters enter and exit from their polling station early, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in Tempe, AZ. CREDIT: AP Photo/Matt York
Voters enter and exit from their polling station early, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in Tempe, AZ. CREDIT: AP Photo/Matt York

TEMPE, ARIZONA — Chris Ashe stormed angrily out of his assigned polling place at Tempe High School. After waking up at 5 a.m. to be able to vote right when the polls opened at 6, he was given a ballot that only included the candidates for president and Congress.

“They fucking disenfranchised me,” he said. “I can’t believe these Republican states.”

Arizona is one of just three states that require proof of citizenship in order to register to vote in local elections. Arizona, Kansas, and Georgia attempted to prevent those who lacked the proper documents from voting at all, but the Supreme Court ruled that would violate federal law.

Now, Arizona is only allowed to enforce its proof of citizenship law for local elections, and if voters do not have the proper documents on hand when they registered to vote, they force them to use a federal-only ballot on Election Day.

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“When I got up there, they almost gave me a provisional ballot. But I said I wouldn’t accept a provisional ballot and I showed them my address again,” said Ashe, who studies biotechnology at Arizona State University. “They finally got my registration, but then they just gave me federal ballot.”

“I’ve lived here for two years,” he told ThinkProgress, visibly frustrated. “I showed them my student ID and my Social Security card. But they told me they couldn’t verify it here.”

Ruth Jones, a retired Political Science professor at Arizona State University volunteering with the Election Protection Network, counseled Ashe to call the Justice Department and report what happened to him.

Samantha Pstross at the Arizona Advocacy Network looked up Ashe’s registration for ThinkProgress, and found that he should have been given a regular ballot. She said her team will investigate the case, and added that many students in the state are adversely impacted by the law.

“Students who may not have their birth certificate with them when they register, or a passport, or a naturalization form, are put on a list to only get a federal form,” she explained. “It’s more difficult for students.”

Arizona State University students say they are excited to vote for Hillary Clinton. CREDIT: Alice Ollstein
Arizona State University students say they are excited to vote for Hillary Clinton. CREDIT: Alice Ollstein

The law also disproportionately impacts poor and elderly voters who may lack access to the proper documents. Tens of thousands of voters in Maricopa County alone are limited to using the federal form for this reason.

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When a federal judge partially blocked Arizona’s proof of citizenship law earlier this year, he said there are better and less burdensome ways for states to ensure people who are not citizens do not unlawfully vote. He also said there was no “substantial evidence” that any non-citizens have tried to use the federal form to register or vote.

The “biggest bummer,” Ashe told ThinkProgress, is that he was unable to vote for members of the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities in the state.

“I’m very pro-renewable energy and solar and stuff and I wanted to vote for candidates who are too, but I couldn’t do that.”

Other out-of-state Arizona State University students, however, were able to vote without a hitch.

Hailey and Charlie Baker, siblings from Tennessee, and their friend Liz Delgado, proudly showed off their “I voted” stickers after waiting about 45 minutes in line.

“It’s so crazy that our first experience voting is voting for a female president,” said Charlie Baker, a sophomore music education major. “It’s wild and it makes me excited for the future. Someday I’ll tell my kids, the first time I voted, it was for the first woman president.”