PHOENIX - Federal legislation to impose national voter identification requirements is designed largely to maintain the Republican majority and not to deal with fraud, a Democratic member of the state's congressional delegation charged Thursday.
Grijalva said, though, the measure - and the hearings being conducted by the panel in Phoenix and around the country - are strictly politics.
"The (Republican) leadership of this Congress wants to maintain its majority,'' he said. "So the objective to me appears to be to begin to erect obstacles to voting by affixing a solution to a non-existent problem by deeply dividing this nation with fear and hysteria.''
He said the GOP majority is choosing to go this route rather than dealing with the complex issues of immigration and border security.
"If the logic is the less they vote, the better for us, how cynical and how un-American,'' Grijalva said.
Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Mich., who chairs the panel, later laughed off that suggestion.
"I don't think this will have much effect on whether we control the Congress or not,'' he said. Ehlers said he's "just trying to do what's right.''
Ehlers, the only official member of the panel to come to Phoenix, said the committee is exploring how various states deal with voter identification. He said the testimony will be used to craft a final version of a new federal law.
Proposition 200, approved by Arizona voters in 2004, requires proof of citizenship to register and certain forms of identification to cast a ballot.
Much of the discussion and testimony Thursday dealt with trying to strike a balance between the need to ensure that only those legally entitled to vote cast ballots and taking action that actually suppresses turnout.
Secretary of State Jan Brewer, who supported the initiative, said the new requirements have not kept people from the polls, saying voter registration is at an all-time high.
Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne noted that since the citizenship proof requirement was implemented in January 2005, her office has received 441,000 new registrations. But she said 15,000 of these were rejected for lack of the required documents.
Mary Wilson, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States, questioned the need for the legislation. She said there is "no credible evidence'' that people who are not citizens "are voting in such numbers that it would justify placing barriers to voter registration.''
But Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas said his office indicted 10 people last year who registered to vote but were not citizens. And Thomas he said that, given how close some elections are, any fraud can change the outcome. Ehlers said he wants to protect the integrity of the electoral process. He said the requirements of Proposition 200 "were designed to prevent the votes of citizens from being diluted by those of non citizens.''
He said congressional action is needed because most states do not have proof of citizenship requirements.
"In most states, the process amounts to an honor system,'' he said. "We cannot rely on the honor of those among us that are inclined to commit fraud.''
Attorney Daniel Ortega said one problem with Proposition 200 is that it requires people to spend money to obtain a driver's license, birth certificate or other acceptable forms of identification. That, he said, makes it akin to the kind of "poll tax'' that was struck down as illegal.
And he said minorities are more likely to live in poverty and therefore be disproportionately affected. Ehlers questioned if that could be mitigated by having the federal government bear the costs for anyone to obtain the necessary ID. Ortega said it would "make it better'' but still not deal with other hurdles to voting in the path of poor people.