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Arizona congressmen want more flexible voter law

PHOENIX -- Arizona lawmakers at the state and federal level are working on separate efforts that would make it harder to vote in what Democrats are calling an attack on low-income and Latino voters.

Arizona's Republican U.S. Reps. Matt Salmon, Paul Gosar, David Schweikert and Trent Franks announced on Tuesday legislation that would allow states to verify voters' U.S. citizenship after a Supreme Court ruling struck down a state law targeting voters in the country illegally.

Meanwhile, Democratic state lawmakers urged Gov. Jan Brewer on Tuesday to veto an election omnibus bill that would make it more difficult to obtain and return a mail ballot. The bill was passed in the finals hours of the legislative session that ended Friday and has drawn opposition from Latino voter outreach groups.

"If it is disenfranchising one voter, than it is bad public policy," said Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, during a press conference at the Senate on Tuesday aimed at rallying support against the election overhaul.

Arizona's voting laws grabbed national headlines when the Supreme Court released its 7-2 ruling Monday that said states can't demand proof of citizenship from people registering to vote in federal elections unless they get federal or court approval to do so. Arizona voters approved Proposition 200 in 2004. It required a state driver's license, birth certificate or passport to register to vote. But the federal voter registration form simply requires people to assert whether they are citizens or not.

The bill proposed by Arizona's Republican congressmen would allow states to add additional voter registration requirements.

"It is critical that we uphold the integrity of our voter registration system by ensuring only U.S. citizens are permitted to cast a ballot," Salmon said in a statement.

Arizona can require voters who don't use the federal registration form to provide proof of citizenship when signing up to vote under the Supreme Court ruling, but those voters can now use the federal form to sidestep that requirement.

Opponents of the election omnibus bill also hope it will be challenged by the federal government. Critics argue the measure is aimed at keeping Republicans in power by creating new hurdles for some candidates and voters.

It would allow election officials to remove voters from the permanent early voting list if they didn't vote by mail in the two most recent general elections. Voters could stay on the list if they returned a completed notice within 30 days confirming their intent to vote by mail in the future. It also prohibits groups from returning the mail ballots, including Latino voter outreach efforts that often collect votes from low-income neighborhoods in the days before elections.

"It's been sold to us as a fix, it's been sold to us as a cleanup, but the reality is this is all about politics," said Rep. Martin Quezada (D-Phoenix).

The bill also dramatically increases the number of signatures third-party candidates need to get on the ballot.

"It's an insurmountable hurdle," said Barry Hess, a former Libertarian gubernatorial candidate. "These are games. These are political egos and nothing else."

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