On Monday, the Supreme Court struck down an Arizona law that required proof of citizenship to register to vote. In a 7-2 decision on Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council, the Court determined that the state has to “accept and use” a federal voter registration form or an equivalent form. The federal registration form requires that the registrant swear under penalty of perjury that he is a citizen.
The Arizona law that was in question before the court was Proposition 200, passed by Arizona voters in 2004. That law required Arizona voters to present proof of citizenship when registering to vote. Advocates for the law argued that it would limit voter fraud, while opponents argued that it would put a burden on naturalized citizens.
Today’s action by the Supreme Court is considered a victory by voting right advocates. The Vice President of Litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), Nina Perales, said the following in a statement, “Today’s decision sends a strong message that states cannot block their citizens from registering to vote by superimposing burdensome paperwork requirements on top of federal law. The Supreme Court has affirmed that all U.S. citizens have the right to register to vote using the national postcard, regardless of the state in which they live.”
MALDEF filed the original suit in the case that became Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council.
The Advancement Project, a multi-racial civil rights organization, also issued a statement via it’s Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis explaining what the Court’s decision means in the context of voting rights.
“The Supreme Court’s decision on Arizona’s Proposition 200 is an important victory for voting rights,” explained Browne Dianis. “By rejecting the federal mail-in voter registration form and requiring additional proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate, passport or naturalization papers, the statute not only violated federal law but was also misguided. Between the time of the law’s implementation in 2005 and the first time it went to trial in 2008, more than 30,000 prospective voters in Arizona had their registration rejected because they did not include the additional documentation required. Nationally, more than 11 million American citizens lack access to these documents – which can be costly and difficult, if not impossible, to obtain. With the tremendous success of the National Voter Registration Act in boosting participation though the mail-in voter registration form, as well as safeguarding the process against fraud, there is simply no need for laws like Prop 200 that only restrict access to the ballot.”
While voting rights advocates praised the decision, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) took the opportunity to attach a voter ID amendment to the Senate immigration bill just shortly after the Supreme Court decision was announced. In a tweet, Cruz said, “I’ll file amendment to immigration bill that permits states to require ID before registering voters & close this hole in fed statutory law.”
Because the voter rolls declined in Arizona with the implementation of Prop 200, there could be an uptick in voter registration in the state by the next election. Finally, Cruz’s amendment would likely not make it into the final immigration bill, but it will be characterized as obstructionist.