Ninth Circuit strikes down Arizona voter registration law

[JURIST] A three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Tuesday struck down [opinion, PDF] a portion of an Arizona law requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration. The court held that the law, Proposition 200 [text, PDF], was inconsistent with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) [materials], which was passed with the intent of increasing voter registration and removing barriers to registration imposed by the states. The NVRA requires voters to attest to the validity of the information on their registration form, including their citizenship, but does not require them to provide additional proof of citizenship. Proposition 200 went beyond the federal statute, requiring applicants to show proof of citizenship before registering to vote. In order to reach their conclusion, the court analyzed the authority given to the federal government under the Article I Elections Clause [text]. The court held that:

The authority granted to Congress under the Elections Clause to "make or alter" state law regulating procedures for federal elections is [an enumerated] power. The Framers of the Constitution were clear that the states' authority to regulate extends only so far as Congress declines to intervene. Given the paramount authority delegated to Congress by the Elections Clause, we conclude that the NVRA, which implemented a comprehensive national system for registering federal voters, supersedes Arizona's conflicting voter registration requirement for federal elections.
In addition to striking down the registration requirement, the court upheld a provision of the law requiring voters to show proof of identification before casting a ballot. Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard [official website] has indicated that he will ask the full panel of the court to reconsider the ruling [WP report]. The Arizona deadline for voter registration for the 2010 elections has passed, so the court's ruling is not expected to have an impact on next week's elections.

The court's ruling upholding the voter identification provision of the law is consistent with previous court rulings on the issue. In April 2008, the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] upheld an Indiana voter identification statute [JURIST report] requiring voters to present photo identification as a prerequisite to voting. The court concluded that, despite arguments that the legislation makes it difficult for minorities, the elderly and the impoverished to participate in elections, the law does not put an undue burden on the right to vote and therefore does not violate the US Constitution. In August 2007, a district court ruled [JURIST report] that the provision in Proposition 200 requiring voters to provide photo identification before voting was valid. The ruling followed an October 2006 Supreme Court decision allowing Arizona to enforce the identification law [JURIST report] during the 2006 mid-term elections. Currently, more than 20 states [NCSL website] require some form of voter identification at the polls.

 

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