It appears that the US Supreme Court will soon resolve several election law conflicts. On the heels of hearing Shelby County, Alabama’s challenge to the Voting Rights Act, America’s top nine Justices today listen to oral arguments in an important case that could lead to major changes in voter registration procedures. Both cases will likely be decided before the court’s current term adjourns at the end of June.
The Arizona voting public, via a 2004 ballot initiative, approved a measure that instituted proof of US citizenship requirements before beginning the voter registration process. The law differs from what many states have instituted relating to proving identity before voting because individuals in Arizona must document their citizenship even before registering.
The voter-passed law requires all registrants to prove their US citizenship either through presenting a driver’s license, passport, birth certificate, naturalization number or tribal card when the individual first registers to vote in the state. Lower courts have partially struck down the measure, ruling that the Arizona law conflicts with the National Voter Registration Act of 1994 because the latter merely requires affirmation of citizenship under penalty of perjury, but does not mandate presenting documentation. Therefore, the lower courts have said that the Arizona requirement cannot apply to federal elections.
The rulings are leading to a system of having separate state and federal registration forms, which has already caused confusion among Grand Canyon State election authorities according to a long Arizona Republic news article describing the situation. The federal registration form, which does not include proof of citizenship, would allow a voter to only cast a ballot in federal elections.
The arguments are basically the same as we’ve heard in voter ID cases. The plaintiffs, in this instance Hispanic and Indian legal foundations along with liberal advocacy groups, will tell the court that the Arizona registration law discourages voting and generally dissuades primarily US citizens of Hispanic origin from engaging in the voting process. The state will counter that the law merely brings further integrity to the election system by ensuring that only American citizens are participating.
According to the Arizona Republic, the state has only prosecuted 19 people for violations since the registration law’s enactment. But, authorities have found several hundred instances of registered voters claiming not to be citizens when answering jury duty questionnaires.
Four other states, Alabama, Georgia, Kansas and Tennessee, have enacted similar registration laws to that of Arizona, and several more have pending legislation to follow suit. Therefore, the high court’s ultimate decision will have an impact upon those laws and legislative considerations, too.
The Supreme Court currently hearing both the Alabama and Arizona election law challenges is a signal that the Justices intend to bring clarity and consistency to the nation’s voting laws. The decisions will likely be announced in mid to late June, meaning major changes affecting election implementation may soon be forthcoming.