The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down an Arizona law that required would-be voters to provide extra layers of proof of their citizenship should give pause to other states that are thinking about voter ID or other polling place rules.
The high court’s 7-2 ruling today told Arizona that its voter registration law – part of the state’s flurry of anti-illegal immigration legislation passed in 2004 – went too far. Federal law requires only that voters swear their citizenship under oath. Therefore, Arizona had no right to ask for more proof than that.
When it comes to voting , federal law trumps the states.
Arizona’s law, as well as the restrictive voter ID laws that popped up in several states prior to the 2012 presidential election, demonstrate why laws such as the National Voting Rights Act and uniform rules for all states are still necessary.
In oral arguments before the Supreme Court last March, Arizona’s lawyers told the justices the state had the right to ask for extra proof of citizenship. Attorney Thomas Horne said, “It’s essentially an honor system. It does not do the job.” The foundation of the law was to prevent fraudulent votes cast by people who are not legally in the United States.
But these attempts to prevent the supposed epidemic of voter fraud – a right-wing tale disproved over and over during the past year – also catch legitimate voters, primarily lawful immigrants and minorities, in their indiscriminately cast nets. And maybe that was the point: Remember Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, who last year told Republican supporters that the state’s new voter ID law would “allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
Arizona’s voter registration law was among several approved by the state’s voters, many of whom had legitimate concerns over the effects of illegal immigration in the border state. But restricting the voter registration process over phantom fears that people who crossed the border illegally will sway their elections was an overreach at least, and a civil rights violation at worst.