Arizona Voter Suppression Laws to Largely Remain Blocked, per 9th Circuit

Yellow sign with VOTE HERE is standing by a line of people waiting to get to the polls in Arizona (Adobe Stock)
Yellow sign with VOTE HERE is standing by a line of people waiting to get to the polls in Arizona (Adobe Stock)

Provisions of two Arizona voter suppression laws that impose strict proof of citizenship and residency requirements will remain blocked after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals largely declined Republicans’ request to pause a lower court’s decision invalidating parts of the laws. 

As a result of today’s order from three Trump-appointed judges, Arizonans who register to vote using federally-issued registration forms can vote in presidential elections and may cast ballots by mail in the upcoming election. 

The 9th Circuit ruling comes in response to a motion from the Republican National Committee and two GOP state legislators who sought to freeze a federal district court’s February ruling that blocked multiple provisions of House Bills 2492 and 2243. 

Republicans asked the appellate to pause the decision while their appeal proceeds in the 9th Circuit, arguing that the district court “erred” in striking down the challenged laws for conflicting with federal law. 

The panel in today’s order granted one part of the Republicans’ request and agreed to reinstate a provision of H.B. 2492 that imposes strict proof of citizenship requirements for those who apply to vote using state-issued voter registration forms.

However, the Arizona secretary of state has not been enforcing that provision since it was previously blocked by the district court — meaning it is unclear how and whether the move will affect voters this election cycle. The ruling does not impact voters who register using federal forms, as these individuals do no need to provide proof of citizenship.

Following today’s order, litigation will continue in the 9th Circuit. 

Previous update, June 28 

Provisions of two voter suppression laws will remain blocked after a federal court rejected Republicans’ request to pause a resounding ruling from late February blocking parts of Arizona’s strict proof of citizenship and residency laws. 

After a federal court blocked Arizona’s House Bill 2492 and House Bill 2243, Republicans asked the court to pause its decision while they appealed. The court declined to do so, writing that the Republican intervenors are unlikely to succeed on appeal. 

Republicans and the state of Arizona have already appealed the court’s February decision that blocked the laws to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals where litigation is ongoing. 

Original story, Feb. 29

In a 109-page opinion issued earlier today, a federal court struck down provisions of two Arizona voter suppression laws. 

This positive ruling for voters penned by a Clinton-appointee stems from a consolidated lawsuit (made up of eight cases) brought by pro-voting organizations challenging provisions of two Arizona voter suppression laws: House Bill 2492 and House Bill 2243.  

In 2022, Arizona Republicans passed two voter suppression laws and pro-voting organizations immediately sued. 

Under H.B. 2492, new voters registering with federal forms must provide proof of citizenship or residency documentation (DPOC) if they want to vote in presidential elections or vote early by mail for any office. Voters who registered when the DPOC requirement wasn’t in effect must provide citizenship documentation to vote in presidential elections. The law also empowers the Arizona attorney general’s office to investigate voters with missing citizenship statuses. Lastly, the law requires registrants who use the state voter registration form to list their birthplace, information that is not material to a voter’s eligibility and not required by the federal voter registration form.  

H.B. 2243 allows for voter purges and requires the cancellation of voter registrations where county recorders have “reason to believe” voters not citizens if they do not provide “satisfactory evidence” within 35 days of being notified.

Mi Familia Vota and Voto Latino filed the first challenge to H.B. 2492 arguing that the law would severely burden Arizona voters who registered to vote when there was not a proof of citizenship requirement and could potentially disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters. 

Seven other lawsuits were filed in the hours, days and months after: Living United for Change in Arizona v. Hobbs, United States v. Arizona, Poder Latinx v. Hobbs, Democratic National Committee v. Hobbs, AZ AANHPI for Equity Coalition v. Hobbs, Promise Arizona v. Hobbs and Tohono O’odham Nation v. Brnovich

The lawsuits challenged H.B. 2492 and 2243’s provisions under the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, the Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and the National Voter Registration Act. The cases were all consolidated under Mi Familia Vota v. Fontes. Each of the lawsuits argued that these new laws will unfairly and illegally target communities of color, naturalized voters, language minority communities and Native American voters. 

After a 10-day trial held last year, the court struck down key provisions of the laws.  

The court determined that requiring individuals who register to vote using the state form to include the voter’s state or country of birth violates the Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act. The court also struck down the provision of H.B. 2243 that allows county recorders to cancel a voter’s registration if they have “reason to believe” they are not a U.S. Citizen. In another win for voters, the court found that the state’s requirement to provide documentary proof of residence for federal elections violates federal law. If a voter uses the state form to register and does not include proof of residence, the voter may be registered as a federal-only voter. 

Prior to the trial, a judge previously blocked key provisions of the laws. 

In September 2022, H.B. 2243 was temporarily blocked for the 2022 midterm elections. This was a major victory for voters as the law was scheduled to go into effect at the end of September of 2022, which would have provided “just enough time” to purge voters who did not provide DPOC in the 35-day window before the 2022 midterm elections. As a result of this victory and ongoing litigation, neither law has been implemented.  In 2023 several provisions of these laws were blocked in a summary judgment order

For instance, the provision requiring documentary proof of citizenship for voters using the federal form was blocked. Practically, this means that Arizonans who register to vote using either the federal or state form, but fail to provide documentary proof of citizenship, will be registered to vote in all elections if the county recorder can confirm they are citizens. 

In addition, as a result of the summary judgment order, if a voter fails to check the box attesting that they are a citizen (pictured below), but provides documentary proof of citizenship, that voter will be registered to vote. If the voter does not provide documentary proof of citizenship, the application can still be rejected. 

A screenshot of Arizona's voter registration form
A screenshot of Arizona’s voter registration form.

In addition, the court sided with the Tohono O’odham plaintiffs and ordered that voters do not need to have a street address to satisfy proof of residency requirements. The court also expanded the list of documents that can be used to satisfy residency requirements, which include using:

  • A valid unexpired Arizona driver’s license or nonoperating ID (“AZ-issued ID”), regardless of whether the address on the Arizona-issued ID matches the address on the holder’s voter registration form and even if the Arizona-issued ID lists only a P.O. Box.
  • Any tribal identification document, including but not limited to a census card, an identification card issued by a tribal government, or a tribal enrollment card, regardless of whether the tribal identification document contains a photo, a physical address, a P.O. Box or no address.
  • Written confirmation signed by the registrant that they qualify to register under H.B. 2492.  

The Republican National Committee (RNC) intervened to defend this anti-voting scheme as did the state’s Republican legislative leadership. The RNC argued that the Materiality Provision — a key provision of the Civil Rights Act that prevents votes from being discarded for trivial errors — is not privately enforceable. Luckily the court flatly rejected that claim today holding that: “Non-US Plaintiffs may enforce the rights conferred” by the Materiality Provision. 

The court held that “Arizona may not reject State Form registrations that lack an individual’s state or country of birth and must register an individual if that individual is found eligible to vote.”

Today’s opinion is a major victory for Arizona voters who will not be needlessly disenfranchised for not including their birthplace on their voter registration application as this information is not necessary to determine if someone is a qualified voter. 

Read the opinion here. 

Learn more about the case here. 

Learn more about what was at stake in this case here.