Less Traveled By: Not Many Dual Track Voters – What Does It Mean?


[Image courtesy of aosleading]

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken (1916)

Much ink and analysis has been spilled (including here) on the ongoing battle between the States of Arizona and Kansas and the federal government regarding proof-of-citizenship laws for voter registration and the decision to set up dual-track registration to handle voters who have provided the required documentation. As you’d expect, there has been fierce rhetoric on each side about fraud, disenfranchisement and the relative rights of states and the federal government to decide election rules.

Now that primary elections are complete in both states, we have our first indication of the impact of proof-of-citizenship – and in raw numbers, it isn’t much. The AZDailySun has more:

Just 21 voters statewide who registered using a federal form for Arizona elections were forced to only vote for federal candidates in the Aug. 26 primary, Secretary of State Ken Bennett said Monday.

Bennett created the system last year after the U.S. Supreme Court said Arizona can’t require additional identification from voters using the federal “motor-voter” form. Attorney General Tom Horne said that conflicted with state law requiring proof of citizenship …

Kansas also created a two-tiered system following the Supreme Court decision, and just one voter there used the special ballots in that state’s Aug. 5 primary.

At first blush, the low number of “dual-track voters” suggests that fears of widespread disenfranchisement may have been exaggerated – but then it’s important to remember that both states (like many others around the country) saw extremely low primary turnout, meaning that these 22 voters may not be representative of the system’s true impact. One could even argue that primaries tend to attract high-information, habitual voters and that a seemingly small number is actually quite large and could grow significantly when the general election pool expands to include voters who aren’t as “hard core” as primary voters. Still, you have to squint really hard to turn 22 voters in two states into a big number.

It’s probably too soon, therefore, to use this one piece of information to evaluate proof-of-citizenship’s impact – but there’s another number that’s definitely worth watching that cries out for a resolution of this dispute sooner than later: cost.

Arizona’s 15 counties were forced to print special ballots for voters who might show up at the polls having not responded to outreach efforts to provide proof of citizenship. Maricopa County alone is spending about $250,000 on special ballots for this year’s primary and general elections.

Statewide, the number is likely a few hundred thousand dollars, Bennett said.

Hopefully, turnout will eventually tell us whether these costs represent a prudent precautionary investment or an unnecessary waste of scarce dollars – but until then, the costs are sunk and gone from local election budgets.

In other words, dual-track federal-only voting appears to be the road “less traveled by” so far, but the expense to state and local election officials is making quite a difference. Here’s hoping the dispute gets resolved soon – and if not, that the general election gives us a clearer sense of proof-of-citizenship’s true impact … on voters AND election budgets.

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