Michael McDaniel/Courthouse News

PHOENIX (CN) — An Asian American advocacy group sued Arizona to block new election laws they say may force people of color or naturalized voters to prove they’re citizens or face criminal prosecution.

According to the federal complaint filed late Tuesday in Phoenix, House Bills 2492 and 2243 unfairly obstruct the ability of voters who are racial minorities, naturalized citizens and limited English-language speakers from participating in the electoral process.

House Bill 2243 takes effect Sept. 24, just before the November midterm elections. The plaintiff, Arizona Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander for Equity Coalition, claims inquiries on citizenship status — unfounded or justified — may trigger investigations on individuals and their citizenship status, and people may balk at voting as a result.

According to the suit, registered voters slated for removal from the voting rolls will have 35 days to prove their citizenship. Voters who don’t comply face referral to the state attorney general for potential criminal investigation.

“HB 2243 requires that for any voter who a county recorder has ‘reason to believe’ is not a U.S. citizen, their voter registration depends on whether the government’s databases, which contain outdated and unreliable data, indicate that they are or are not a U.S. citizen,” the group claims in the lawsuit. “HB 2243 essentially allows anyone, without evidence, to simply give a list of names of people who are purportedly not citizens to the county recorders, thus triggering a check that can lead to improperly canceled voter registrations and potential investigation and prosecution of eligible and registered Arizonans.”

The group claims overlays may be too strict for some in the Asian, Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities, some of whom may struggle with understanding the situation and the requirement to provide costly and time-sensitive documentary proof of citizenship, referred to as a DPOC in the lawsuit.

“It will also disproportionately affect those voters with limited English proficiency who will have to interpret a notice in English and navigate complicated government channels in order to provide adequate DPOC,” the group says in its lawsuit. “Moreover, county recorders or other state officials will be able to use this provision in conjunction with the birthplace requirement to single these voters out.”

According to the complaint, naturalized citizens who have not updated their residency status may be dissuaded from voting due to inexact standards flagging them as unlawfully attempting to participate.

“HB 2492 and HB 2243 both create avenues for potential unwarranted criminal prosecution for naturalized citizens,” the group says in its lawsuit. “For example, both laws provide for a naturalized citizen to be subject to criminal prosecution if the citizen happens to register to vote after naturalization but before obtaining a new driver’s license.”

Similarly, HB 2492 requires all potential voters in Arizona to present an ID at registration or within 30 days of registering to vote. Refusing to comply also would flag them for removal and investigation.

In February, state Representative Jake Hoffman, a Republican from Queen Creek and HB 2492’s sponsor, claimed the then-bill was justified due to an increase in voters with no proof of citizenship.

"In 2018, there were only 1,700 individuals who didn't have documentary proof of citizenship on file," Hoffman said during a legislative session. "In 2020, there were almost 12,000. So clearly, this is a trend that is increasing. This bill ensures that there is maximum flexibility to provide documentary proof of citizenship, but we don't want foreign interference in our elections."

But the plaintiff claims Arizona has seen an influx of naturalized citizens.

“Arizona has seen more than 100,000 residents naturalize, with Mexico as the country of origin with the highest percentage of this naturalized population, followed next by Asiatic countries of origin. On information and belief, one of HB 2492’s goals is to curb these communities of color’s right to vote,” the complaint states.

In 2004, Arizona voters passed an initiative to require voters to prove citizenship upon registration. The initiative, Proposition 200, was a challenge to the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. Under the act, voters are only required to affirm their citizenship under the perjury of law.

Nearly a decade later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 the act superseded the proposition’s ID requirement.

Neither Arizona's secretary of state nor attorney general responded to requests for comment by press time.

The Arizona Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander for Equity Coalition wants a judge to find the bulk of HB 2492 and section 2 of HB 2243 unconstitutional and to bar the state from enforcing those parts of the laws. They also want county recorders ordered to reinstate anyone stricken from voter rolls as a result of the laws.

The group is represented by Sadik Huseny of Latham & Watkins in San Francisco, Niyati Shah of Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Washington, and Spencer Fane of Spencer Fane LLP in Phoenix.