The Justice Department sued the state of Arizona Tuesday to block a law that would require proof of citizenship to register to vote in the state.
The law, which Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed in March, is set to take effect in January.
According to the lawsuit, the Supreme Court rejected Arizona’s previous attempt to require proof of citizenship in 2013, and the Justice Department argues this new law violates the National Voter Registration Act because it requires documented proof of citizenship in federal elections.
“Arizona has passed a law that turns the clock back on progress by imposing unlawful and unnecessary requirements that would block eligible voters from the registration rolls for certain federal elections,” said Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in a statement.
“The Justice Department will continue to use every available tool to protect all Americans’ right to vote and to ensure that their voices are heard,” she added.
Arizona is just one of the key battleground states where Republican state lawmakers have pushed for changes to voting procedures, something that’s alarmed voting rights advocates. Democrats have repeatedly warned that laws like the one in Arizona could raise unwarranted questions about the results of free and fair elections and erode voter confidence.
State law already requires Arizona residents who want to register to vote in state elections to provide proof of citizenship. But this legislation, passed by the GOP-controlled state legislature, extends those requirements to residents who are only voting in federal elections.
Currently, individuals who use a federal voter registration form are required to attest under penalty of perjury that they are a citizen, but proof is not required.
Under the new law, elections officials would need to verify the citizenship status of any voter who submits a federal voter registration form without the proper proof. And any county recorder or election official who doesn’t attempt to verify citizenship status and knowingly registers a voter without the proper documentation could be charged with a felony.
The state attorney general could also investigate any voter without proof of citizenship and could prosecute non-citizens who register to vote.
While Ducey has said the law “provides clarity” on how officials process voter registration applications that “lack evidence of citizenship,” critics say it could harm voters – like students, the elderly and those in tribal communities – who may not have a valid state driver’s license or identification card.
This story has been updated with additional information Tuesday.
Kelly Mena contributed to this report.