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Supreme Court hears arguments on Arizona voter law that requires proof of citizenship

By Karen McVeigh, The Guardian
Monday, March 18, 2013 15:42 EDT
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Latina voter (Flickr user chicagopublicmedia)
 
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Case focused on whether voter-approved law which requires voters to prove they are US citizens, violates federal law

The Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments on Monday in a case which will decide whether US states can require voters to submit proof of citizenship to cast a ballot.

The case focuses on whether a voter-approved Arizona law known as Proposition 200, which requires voters to prove they are US citizens, violates federal law. Four other states, Alabama, Georgia, Kansas and Tennessee, have similar laws while 12 other states are contemplating such legislation, officials told the Associated Press.

The measure, amended state laws to require voters to show proof of citizenship to register as well as ID at the polls.

Defenders of the law, enacted in 2004 with 55% of the vote, say it is necessary to prevent people from fraudulently impersonating registered voters at the election booth.

Arizona, which borders Mexico, has passed some of the most restrictive immigration legislation in the nation. In a landmark case last year, the Supreme Court upheld its provisions on immigration status checks by police but struck down a number of state measures, including one that would ban illegal immigrants soliciting work in public places.

Opponents of Propostion 200, including the Obama administration, say that obtaining documents for proof is an undue burden which could disenfranchise sectors of the community, the poor minorities and the elderly. 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 Verrilli 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 brief by the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund says it has had a chilling effect on voter registration in Arizona. “Following enactment of Proposition 200, over 31,000 individuals were rejected for voter registration in Arizona,” it said The group found that, of the 31,000 individuals rejected, the proportion of Democrats and Republicans were equal, half were under 30 and of those who indicated a race, half said they were white.

“Less than one-third of the rejected registrants subsequently successfully registered to vote,” it said.

Legal experts have said that the outcome could have a profound effect on the ability of the federal government to impose rules on states running congressional elections.

Under a federal law designed to expand voter registration, the Voter Registration Act (NVRA), applicants can mail in a signed form to attest they are US citizens but do not to have to provide proof.

A federal appeals court threw out the part of Arizona’s Proposition 200 that added extra citizenship requirements for voter registration, saying it interfered with federal law.

Arizona now wants the Supreme Court to reinstate the provision, arguing that the law is permissible under the NVRA.

Kathy McKee, who led the campaign to get Proposition 200 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.

However, in September last year, AP reported that officials in key election states where illegal voters were suspected, reported a small fraction of such fraud.

In Colorado, election officials found 141 non-citizens on the voter rolls, 0.004% of the state’s nearly 3.5 million voters. Florida officials found 207, or 0.001% 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 did not respond to repeated inquiries, saying that the measures will cripple the effectiveness of community voter registration drives. More than 28 million people used the federal “Motor Voter” forms in the 2008 election, according to the US Election Assistance Commission.

Opponents of the law say it will have a crippling effect on community voter registration drives.

Proposition 200 “was never intended to combat voter fraud,” state Sen. Steve Gallardo of Phoenix told AP. “It was intended to keep minorities from voting.”

Arizona attorney General Thomas Horne said in court papers “What [opponents] are urging is that there should be nothing more than an honor system to assure that registered voters are citizens. That was not acceptable to the people of Arizona.”

It is the second time in a month the Supreme Court will be arguing voters rights. Last month, some justices expressed scepticism over whether the landmark law, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, aimed at preventing voting discrimination, was still needed.

© 2013 Guardian News and Media

[Latina voter via Flickr user chicagopublicmedia]

 
 
 
 
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