By Corinne Murdock
Contrary to popular belief, proof of citizenship isn’t necessarily required for Arizona voters in federal elections. An individual may choose to be a “federal-only” voter, which is what over 11,600 people did in Arizona during the 2020 election – nearly 1,150 more votes than what President Joe Biden received to win the state. Federal-only voters may later provide their proof of citizenship to vote in state, county, and local elections as well – but they never have to for federal elections.
A majority of those 11,600 federal-only votes came from Maricopa County: over 8,100 total. Nearly 4,500 of those votes were from standard federal-only voters. The remaining 3,630 came from Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) federal-only voters. UOCAVA voters have proven citizenship but may only cast federal-only ballots because of their indefinite overseas status.
The next-largest total came from Pima County with just under 2,000 federal-only votes. Their public report didn’t distinguish the standard and UOCAVA voters.
We were unable to obtain federal-only vote totals from Pinal County by press time.
Yavapai County had nearly 260 federal-only votes – no distinction was made between standard and UOCAVA voters on their public report. Yuma County had 169 federal-only ballots cast. Coconino County informed AZ Free News that it had nearly 930 federal-only votes: over 330 standard, and over 590 UOCAVA votes.
We were also unable to obtain the totals for federal-only ballots cast in the following counties by press time: Mohave, Cochise, Navajo, Apache, Gila, and Graham.
For the 2018 midterm elections, the secretary of state’s office reported that only about 1,700 people cast federal-only ballots.
Prior to 2018, counties weren’t required to make the number of federal-only votes cast public. While she was still a representative, State Senator Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) changed that by introducing and passing A.R.S. §16‐161(B).
Despite this law, AZ Free News had to reach out to some of the counties to learn how many federal-only ballots were cast there in the election. Not all of the counties are publishing the total number of federal-only registered voters and ballots cast per state law.
Townsend told AZ Free News that she introduced A.R.S. §16-161(B) when she encountered some pushback from Maricopa County over receiving the numbers of registered federal-only voters. They wanted Townsend to file an open records request (also called a Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] request). This frustrated Townsend, but she respected their request.
“What’s the effort of trying to obscure this? You’re causing me to believe there’s something nefarious going on because I had to do all these backflips to try to get these numbers,” said Townsend.
Even after Townsend complied, she told AZ Free News that the numbers didn’t add up. Townsend took the next logical step. She introduced a bill requiring all counties to make the number of federal-only ballots cast publicly available.
As of last year, there were around 36,000 people registered as federal-only voters in Arizona.
The number of federal-only voters hasn’t always been this large. In fact, it was 26 to 36 times smaller in 2017. Townsend said that only around 1,100 people were registered as federal-only voters back then. This concurs with the reports that around 1,700 people cast federal-only ballots in 2018.
According to Townsend, the federal-only option is tantamount to an honor system.
“It begs the question: if there are 36,000 people in the state of Arizona that can’t prove they exist – through birth certificates, social security numbers, [etc] – what’s wrong with our vital statistics department? I have a hard time believing that our vital statistics department can’t get 36,000 Americans their birth certificates. What’s wrong with the Social Security Department that there are 36,000 people that can’t have their identity verified?” asked Townsend. “I think the bigger argument is why are we so inept. If they’re an American, they deserve to be able to vote an entire ballot. What are we doing wrong that we can’t get them to vote on an entire ballot?”
Townsend explained further that once an individual registers as a federal-only voter, they can elect to be on the mail-in ballot system. She says that she will be introducing legislation next year to tighten up the identification requirements for federal-only voters, such as requiring a government-issued form of identification rather than allowing merely any document displaying a name and address.
“We can at least change the ID to make sure it’s not just a bank statement,” asserted Townsend. “Otherwise, it’s going to take an act of Congress to change it.”
11,700 voters is a lot – especially considering Biden’s margin of victory. However, these ballots weren’t included in the scope of the ongoing audit. Townsend confirmed that she’d asked “multiple times” for the voters behind those ballots to be examined – but her requests were reportedly ignored.
State Representative John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) also tweeted this information after one of his constituents emailed him to ask.
“A constituent emailed asking me how many federal election only ballots were cast in AZ. These are ballots cast by people who could not prove citizenship,” wrote Kavanagh. “There were 11,604 federal only ballots cast. Biden won the election by 10,457. Makes you wonder.”
Kavanagh explained to AZ Free News that his legislative staff had called upon the secretary of state’s office to determine how many federal-only ballots were cast. The secretary of state’s office didn’t have that information readily available, and had to collect data from each county to determine the total number of federal-only ballots cast.
“I was shocked to discover that there were more federal-only ballots cast than the federal margin of victory,” said Kavanagh. “It could’ve affected the election.”
Like Townsend, Kavanagh said he is preparing to strengthen the verification procedures for federal-only voters.
“I’m investigating the procedures for checking somebody’s citizenship. I presume it would be done easily[.] If we can check people based on their name and address – we can actually go back and check how many of those people were actually citizens,” said Kavanagh. “We can’t prevent federal ballots, but we can let them know that if they’re lying we can come after them and prosecute them.”
From Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’s office:
A person is not required to submit proof of citizenship with the voter registration form, but failure to do so means the person will only be eligible to vote in federal elections (known as being a “federal only” voter). A “federal only” voter will become eligible to vote a “full ballot” in all federal, state, county and local elections if he or she later provides valid proof of citizenship to the appropriate County Recorder’s office.