On June 17, 2013, in a 7-2 decision, the United States Supreme Court struck down an Arizona law requiring voters to provide documentation proving their citizenship when registering to vote in federal elections. While the court heard arguments about the law disproportionately affecting minorities and fraudulent voting by non-citizens, the decision turned on whether federal voting legislation trumps that of the states.
Arizona Passed Proposition 200 in 2004
Arizona Proposition 200 was placed on the ballot for the November 2004 election. Known as the Arizona Taxpayer and Citizenship Protection Act, one of its purposes was to set out requirements to register to vote in federal elections.
The Act stated that when registering to vote, a person must submit proof of American citizenship. If no such evidence was tendered, the Registrar was required to reject the application to register the person as a voter.
Documentation needed to be forwarded in order to prove citizenship consisted of legible photocopies of a driver’s license issued after October 1 1996, a birth certificate, an American passport, or U.S. naturalization papers.
The ballot initiative passed on November 2, 2004 by a margin of 56 to 44%.
Proposition 200: Against Federal Legislation
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) took effect in 1994. Also known as the “motor voter law,” the legislation allows people to register to vote at the same time they apply for a driver’s license or to have their license renewed. Other provisions of the NVRA allow persons to register to vote by mail or at state and local government offices.
The law was made applicable to 44 states, including Arizona, and the District of Columbia. The remaining states were excluded because when the NVRA came into effect on August 1, 1994, these states did not have any voter registration requirements in place.
Under the NVRA, states where the Act is applicable must include a voter registration form with an application for a driver’s license or renewal. In that form, the applicant must attest to the fact he or she is an American citizen and is warned that penalties are provided for making false statements. But there is no requirement that the applicant include documentary proof of citizenship such as that required under the Arizona law.
Arizona Law Challenged After Proposition 200 Passed
Several groups including the League of Women Voters, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona commenced an action against the state. The Applicants argued that the state law went against the principles of the NVRA that were to simplify the voter registration process. They also argued that the Arizona requirements would disproportionately affect the poor and minority groups who were less likely to have the required documentation to prove their citizenship. The Applicants argued the state had no right to add additional requirements to those mandated by the federal government.
The state argued the law should be construed in such a way that additional requirements can be added. Having a border with Mexico, Arizona argued that the federal voting requirements do not do enough to prevent illegals from registering to vote.
On an appeal from a decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, allowing an appeal from a lower court and striking down the legislation, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in March 2013.