Must voters have to prove citizenship to register?

March 18, 2013 10:14:11 AM

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WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court will struggle this week with the validity of an Arizona law that tries to keep illegal immigrants from voting by demanding all state residents show documents proving their U.S. citizenship before registering to vote in national elections. 

 

The high court will hear arguments Monday over the legality of Arizona's voter-approved requirement that prospective voters document their U.S. citizenship in order to use a registration form produced under the federal "Motor Voter" voter registration law that doesn't require such documentation. 

 

This case focuses on voter registration in Arizona, which has tangled frequently with the federal government over immigration issues involving the Mexican border. But it has broader implications because four other states -- Alabama, Georgia, Kansas and Tennessee -- have similar requirements, and 12 other states are contemplating similar legislation, officials say. 

 

The Obama administration is supporting challengers to the law. 

 

If Arizona can add citizenship requirements, then "each state could impose all manner of its own supplemental requirements beyond the federal form," Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. said in court papers. "Those requirements could encompass voluminous documentary or informational demands, and could extend to any eligibility criteria beyond citizenship, such as age, residency, mental competence, or felony history." 

 

A federal appeals court threw out the part of Arizona's Proposition 200 that added extra citizenship requirements for voter registration, but only after lower federal judges had approved it. 

 

Arizona wants the justices to reinstate its requirement. 

 

Kathy McKee, who led the push to get the proposition on the ballot, said voter fraud, including by illegal immigrants, continues to be a problem in Arizona. "For people to conclude there is no problem is just shallow logic," McKee said. 

 

The Associated Press reported in September that officials in pivotal presidential election states had found only a fraction of the illegal voters they initially suspected had existed. 

 

In Colorado, election officials found 141 noncitizens on the voter rolls, which was 0.004 percent of the state's nearly 3.5 million voters. Florida officials found 207, or 0.001 percent of the state's 11.4 million registered voters. In North Carolina, 79 people admitted to election officials that they weren't citizens and were removed from the rolls, along with 331 others who didn't respond to repeated inquires. 

 

Opponents of Arizona's law see it as an attack on vulnerable voter groups such as minorities, immigrants and the elderly. They say Arizona's law makes registering more difficult, which is an opposite result from the intention of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. 

 

Proposition 200 "was never intended to combat voter fraud," said Democratic state Sen. Steve Gallardo of Phoenix. "It was intended to keep minorities from voting." 

 

With the additional state documentation requirements, Arizona will cripple the effectiveness of neighborhood and community voter registration drives, advocates say. More than 28 million Americans used the federal "Motor Voter" form to register to vote in the 2008 presidential elections, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. 

 

An Arizona victory at the high court would lead to more state voting restrictions, said Elisabeth MacNamara, the national president of the League of Women Voters. 

 

Opponents of the Arizona provision say they've counted more than 31,000 potentially legal voters in Arizona who easily could have registered before Proposition 200 but who were blocked initially by the law in the 20 months after it passed in 2004. They say about 20 percent of those thwarted were Latino. 

 

Arizona officials say they should be able to pass laws to stop illegal immigrants and other noncitizens from getting on their voting rolls. The Arizona voting law was part of a package that also denied some government benefits to illegal immigrants and required Arizonans to show identification before voting. 

 

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the voter identification provision. The denial of benefits was not challenged.