The U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday that it is suing the southwestern state of Arizona over its new proof of citizenship requirements for voter registration.
The lawsuit is the latest legal action that the Justice Department has taken against a number of Republican-controlled states over newly enacted laws that the department says restrict voting rights.
The Arizona law, set to take effect in January 2023, requires that voters produce “documentary proof of citizenship” before they can vote in a presidential election or vote by mail in any federal election. Voting rights advocates say the law could force thousands of registered voters to be dropped from the state’s voter rolls.
That requirement is a “textbook violation” of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), said Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
“Arizona has passed a law that turns the clock back on progress by imposing unlawful and unnecessary requirements that would block eligible voters from the registration rolls for certain federal elections,” Clarke said in announcing the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was brought under both the NVRA and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The NVRA requires states to accept and use a nationally developed mail voter registration form. Among other things, the Arizona law requires applicants to indicate their places of birth, a requirement that the Justice Department says is “immaterial” to proving citizenship.
The Justice Department said the new Arizona voter registration requirement “flouts” a 2013 Supreme Court decision that rejected an earlier attempt by the state to implement a similar mandate.
In its lawsuit, the department contends that the Arizona law also violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “by requiring election officials to reject voter registration forms based on errors or omissions that are not material to establishing a voter’s eligibility to cast a ballot.”
Jake Hoffman, a Republican member of the Arizona House of Representatives and the main sponsor of the bill, did not respond to a request for comment.
In the year and half since President Joe Biden entered the White House, the Justice Department has made voting rights enforcement a priority, filing lawsuits and settling claims with a number of states.
Under former President Donald Trump, the Justice Department was criticized for not aggressively enforcing voting rights laws.
The department’s stepped-up effort to enforce voting rights laws comes in response to new “election integrity” laws passed by Republican-led states.
Republicans say the laws are designed to prevent fraud, but voting rights advocates say they will make it more difficult for voters to cast their ballots.
Justice Department officials say they will continue to examine the new laws and bring legal action where needed.
“The Justice Department will continue to use every available tool to protect all Americans’ right to vote and to ensure that their voices are heard,” Clarke said.