The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked states from independently demanding proof of citizenship from people registering to vote in federal elections, complicating efforts in some states to stop voting by people who are in the country illegally. Voting rights advocates were pleased.
The ruling announced Monday came in response to a case involving Arizona, a state on the Mexican border which has been requiring extra information ?a state driver’s license issued after 1996, a U.S. birth certificate, a passport or similar document ?before it would approve the federal registration application. It can no longer do that on its own authority.
“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,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Opponents of Arizona’s law saw it as an attack on vulnerable voter groups such as minorities, immigrants and the elderly. They say about 20 percent of those thwarted from registering to vote were Latino.
The top court’s 7-2 ruling means that states would need permission from a federally created panel, the Election Assistance Commission, or a federal court ruling overturning the commission’s decision, to make tougher requirements stick.
Less than 5 percent of people registering to vote in Arizona use the federal form at issue in the ruling, said Matt Roberts, a spokesman for Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett. The rest register through the state, meaning they will continue to be asked to provide proof of citizenship when signing up to vote.
But because of the court ruling, people can merely choose the less onerous federal form, which asks people to swear if they are citizens or not but does not demand proof.
Arizona has argued frequently with the federal government over immigration issues involving the Mexican border, health care and more. But the decision on voter registration has broader implications because other states have similar requirements, and still others are contemplating such legislation.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne expects the state will ask the Election Assistance Commission to approve the citizenship proof on the federal form and to fight any denial in court. “We have to jump through more hoops,” Horne said.
Kathy McKee, who led the push to get the law requiring more voter registration proof on the ballot in Arizona, said the ruling makes it harder to combat voter fraud.
“To even suggest that the honor system works, really?” McKee said. “You have to prove who you are just to use your charge card now.”
The Arizona voting law was part of a package that also denied some government benefits to people in the country illegally and required Arizonans to show identification before voting.
The case is 12-71, Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc.
(Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)