New law flusters election officials
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 5, 2005 12:00 AM
Proposition 200 hard to follow
Yvonne Wingett

Proposition 200 has created widespread confusion among county recorders and election officials across the state, who say they are racing the clock to implement a key provision for the March 8 elections.

The law's restrictions are meant to prevent undocumented immigrants from voting by requiring proof of citizenship when registering and requiring identification at the polls. It's the biggest change to Arizona's election laws in two decades.

But it has set off procedural snags for elections officials in at least four counties - Pima, Pinal, Navajo and Maricopa - while creating confusion for others, who say they are tangled in the measure's complex language and worry that the provisions, once enforced, may frustrate many eligible voters.

The first big test comes with municipal elections, now only 31 days away. Officials are at a standstill until proposed administrative rules are ironed out. Between now and then, those rules may have to be approved by the U.S. Justice Department, poll workers must be trained and hundreds of thousands of voters educated.

"Whenever election laws have changed through the decades, it's always made the ability to vote and cast a vote easier and easier," said Pima County Elections Director Brad Nelson. "This is the first time in my approximately 30 years of doing it that we've gone 180 degrees in the opposite direction. This is the first law that has restricted voting."

In a Nov. 2 election day mandate, Arizona voters passed Proposition 200 by an 11 percent margin. It requires proof of citizenship when registering to vote and applying for public benefits. It also makes it a crime for public employees to fail to report undocumented immigrants seeking benefits to immigration authorities.

Proposition 200's registration requirements do not affect those already registered to vote. The requirement to show ID at the polls does not apply to voting by mail.

Proponents of the measure believe it will prevent voting fraud. But some elections officials said it could unintentionally block the path to the polls for legitimate voters.

Birth certificates, passports and Arizona driver's licenses issued after Oct. 1, 1996, are among the acceptable documents that prove citizenship when registering to vote, according to the new law. Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard on Friday answered one key Proposition 200 question by issuing a legal opinion stating that driver's licenses issued after Oct. 1, 1996, can be used to prove citizenship when registering to vote.

Officials will examine those documents, and driver's license numbers will be entered into a system and matched with those of the state Motor Vehicle Division. If they don't correspond, the registration application is rejected and the applicant is notified by mail.

At the polls, voters must show picture IDs with names and current addresses, or two other forms of ID that prove residence. Those may include a Bureau of Indian Affairs card and the driver's license.

One potential snafu: Driver's licenses may have outdated addresses, and tribal cards often list post office boxes, not home addresses, election officials point out.

Many legitimate voters will be turned away because they will not bring proper identification or do not have it, said some elections officials.

"There's quite a few questions that we're still in limbo on," said Laurette Justman, Navajo County recorder and president of the Arizona Recorder's Association, which met this week to discuss guidelines that workers can follow during registration and voting.

"Women who get married and their name is changed, what do we do there? The concern I have for our Native American population . . . (is) the majority of them use post office boxes. We cannot accept a post office box for proof of address. The intent of Proposition 200 was to provide a higher level of protection against fraud, not to make voting more difficult for people who are legitimately entitled to vote."

According to Proposition 200, each county must determine how to implement the law. The Secretary of State's Office has offered advice on implementation for poll workers. The draft proposal was sent out to elections officials across the state for comment. If the guidelines become a part of the secretary of state's procedures manual, they must be approved by federal officials.

"I'm trying to stay on top of the drafts, " said Gilberto Hoyos, elections director for Pinal County.

"We're up against time. We've got (31) days to do something. We have to come up with something that will be suitable for all jurisdictions."

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-4712.