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Bennett testifies in D.C. on voter registration offenses, ineligible voters

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Wednesday morning on the state of the right to vote.

Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett was a witness, along with other state-level elected officials, former Florida Governor Charlie Crist and Nina Perales of the Mexican American Legal Defense fund.

Bennett made some claims about the activist group Adios Arpaio, which spent weeks registering new Latino voters in an effort to oust Maricopa County’s long-serving sheriff. Bennett accused the organizers of tampering with the registrations of voters who did not sign up to be on the permanent early voting list.

“For the purposes of the organization that was pushing the drive, I was, frankly, a bit surprised that they admitted to me that the organization officials had checked a box on the voter registration form that the voter may not have known had been checked by the group that they gave it to," Bennett said.

And when such a voter showed up at his or her polling place, they would have been forced to cast a provisional ballot.

However, one of the leaders of that get-out-the-vote effort refuted those claims. He said nobody with his group admitted anything like that to Bennett, or to his knowledge, changed any registration forms.

Bennett also said Arizona counties have a big problem with ineligible people who are registered to vote. He said some registered voters mark on jury duty forms that they are not citizens.

“We have counties report to us that they remove hundreds of voters from the registration voter rolls monthly who report on forms that are sent out to potential jurors that they are in fact not citizens," Bennett said.

Bennett’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for details on where that figure comes from.

In Maricopa County, Arizona’s most populous county, there are hundreds of people each month who report on jury duty forms that they’re not citizens, but so far in 2012 an average of about 29 voters are removed each month from the rolls.

Addressing a separate topic, Perales said she thinks restrictions on voting target minorities, and although Latino registration and voting rates still lag, “Latino voters are steadily increasing in number and achieving higher levels of voter participation," she said.

"State practices that seek to freeze in place their current electorates and limit the entry of Latino voters can run afoul of federal law as well as the constitution, and are fundamentally undemocratic.”

Perales said voter ID laws in states such as Arizona, and the contested redistricting process in Texas, amount to voter suppression.

Bennett said Arizona's voter ID law has not had a negative effect on voter turnout.

He also said he’s concerned that equipment bought with federal money from the 2002 Help America Vote Act will soon need replacement.