PHOENIX – A U.S. District Court judge held that a provision of an Arizona voting law that could have been used to remove U.S. citizens from voter rolls is unlawful, according to documents filed Thursday in federal court.

MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and the Ortega Law Firm filed suit challenging Arizona’s House Bill 2243 (H.B. 2243) in 2022 on behalf of two groups that register and assist voters in that state.

Judge Susan R. Bolton ruled that a provision of H.B. 2243 requiring voter roll checks by county officials violated a 1993 federal voting law requiring that voter registration maintenance procedures be non-discriminatory. Specifically, Bolton enjoined H.B. 2243’s provision directing 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). SAVE is a federal service that agencies use to verify immigration status for the purpose of receiving public benefits.

“This week’s ruling protects voters who worked hard to become U.S. citizens and register to vote from discriminatory scrutiny by election officials,” said Ernest I. Herrera, MALDEF Western Regional Counsel. “We remain concerned about the parts of the law that the district court did not enjoin, such as the use of outdated driver license data for purges, but this ruling and our earlier victory banning purges within 90 days of a federal election give voters significant protections.”

Attorneys argued that the “reason to believe” provision would have allowed election officials to single out naturalized U.S. citizen voters for such verifications based on subjective judgment and third-party, potentially false information in violation of a section of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Judge Bolton found that such SAVE checks based on “reason to believe” would mean that naturalized citizens “will always be at risk of county recorders’ subjective decision” to investigate them, a requirement that would never apply to native-born citizen voters. Such checks based on a “reason to believe” a voter is not a U.S. citizen, Judge Bolton held, constitute a different standard, practice, or procedure than that applied to native-born U.S. citizens.

H.B. 2243 was signed into law in July 2022. The law was part of a spate of so-called “election integrity” bills enacted following the 2020 presidential election. The ruling comes just weeks before the state’s March 19 primary election. In September of 2023, the district court granted a motion by MALDEF and others that prevents Arizona from purging voters within 90 days of a federal election, which is required by the NVRA.

Plaintiffs Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP) and Promise Arizona (PAZ) are voting rights groups that register and educate voters in Arizona and across the Southwest. The implementation of H.B. 2243, threatened the organizations’ voter education missions by forcing them to divert resources to respond to the new requirements, and aid flagged voters.

“Promise Arizona is very proud of having been part of making this ruling happen,” said Petra Falcon, Executive Director of Promise Arizona. “Our community deserves to have individuals that have come to this country and have worked hard to become citizens have the right of going to the polls every election day!”

“Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP) has worked to register and turnout Latino voters in Arizona. SVREP filed the legal challenge against Arizona to block the law from being enacted, and to stop the harm to U.S. citizens, particularly naturalized citizens, who want to exercise their right to vote,” said Lydia Camarillo, SVREP president. “An estimated 1 million Latino voters will be registered to vote for the 2024 presidential general election. We must continue the fight to ensure that Latinos can vote in this election.”

Read the order HERE.