PHOENIX – A Latino civil rights organization is challenging an Arizona state law that could be used to remove U.S. citizens from voter rolls unlawfully, according to documents filed Monday in federal court.

MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and the Ortega Law Firm filed suit on behalf of Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP) and Promise Arizona (PAZ), two groups that register and assist voters in that state. In the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, attorneys are asking the court to stop Arizona House Bill (H.B.) 2243 from being implemented because it violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993.

“The underlying basis for H.B. 2243 is wholly imaginary because the implicit premise of widespread voting by non-citizens is completely false,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.  “The bill traffics in the simplistic, racially exclusionary lies of Donald Trump; as such, the bill is a threat to democracy in Arizona.”

H.B. 2243 was signed into law by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey in July. It directs county election officials who have “reason to believe” a voter isn’t a U.S. citizen to check for the voter’s name in the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE), a federal service that agencies use to verify immigration status for the purpose of receiving public benefits.  SAVE is not a comprehensive database of all immigrants, according to the complaint. The bill also tasks county recorders with comparing voter rolls to other databases and sources, such as Arizona’s driver license database, the federal Social Security Administration database, and unspecified state and local databases. Attorneys say such records could be out of date or incomplete and that using them to verify a voter’s eligibility could lead election officials to remove legitimately registered, naturalized U.S. citizen voters from the rolls.

The bill’s requirement for monthly checks of county voter rolls targets naturalized U.S. citizens for removal and discriminates against them, in violation of the First Amendment, attorneys argue. The bill also violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, according to the complaint.

“Following the 2020 election, elected officials in Arizona repeated baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud in an effort to curb the growing Latino vote,” said Luis L. Lozada, MALDEF staff attorney.  “H.B. 2243 represents Arizona’s attempt to subject U.S. citizen Latino voters to additional scrutiny and removal from the voter rolls.”

According to the NVRA, states’ efforts to maintain updated voter registration lists must not be discriminatory.  Arizona’ H.B. 2243 would discriminate against Latino and naturalized U.S. citizen voters. Also under the NVRA, states must halt voter purge programs within 90 days of an election. H.B. 2243 requires county recorders to compile lists every 30 days and send cancellation notices. Therefore, H.B. 2243’s requirements will lead to county recorders removing voters in violation of the NVRA’s 90-day provision, attorneys say.

MALDEF attorneys sent a letter to the Arizona Secretary of State on August 15, 2022, warning the state that H.B. 2243 was in violation of the NVRA as required by the law.

Plaintiffs SVREP and PAZ, are voting rights groups that register and educate voters in Arizona and across the Southwest. The implementation of H.B. 2243, could harm the organizations by forcing them to divert resources to educate voters on the new requirements, help them respond to notices, and possibly re-register flagged voters.

“Promise Arizona has fought to stop the profiling of immigrants and Latinos for years since S.B. 1070, and H.B. 2243 continues the pattern of Arizona legislation that targets Latinos and people of color,” said Petra Falcon, Executive Director of Promise Arizona. “Like the Arizona laws that came before it, H.B. 2243 instills fear and violates Latinos’ civil rights.”

Defendants include Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, Director of the Arizona Department of Transportation John S. Halikowski and the county recorders of Apache, Cochise, Coconino, Gila, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Maricopa, Mohave, Navajo, Pima and Pinal counties.

“SVREP filed this legal challenge to ensure that Latino U.S. citizens who are eligible to cast a ballot in Arizona can do so without cancellation of their voter registration,” said Lydia Camarillo, SVREP president. “This is not the first time that SVREP sued Arizona. We filed a legal challenge to Proposition 200 in 2006 and won. We must stand with the Arizona Latino community and protect their right to vote.”

Read the complaint HERE.