An important win in Arizona, at least for now

Written by Common Cause Interns on June 17, 2013

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Common Cause and our fellow voting rights advocates are celebrating Monday's Supreme Court's decision in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, while warning that more battles over voting are on the horizon.

The case presented a challenge to the National Voting Registration Act of 1993, better known as the "Motor Voter Law;" the law requires states to accept and use a uniform, national form to register voters for federal elections. Proof of citizenship under the federal law is established by attesting that one is a U.S. citizen under the penalty of perjury.

After Arizona voters agreed to a 2004 ballot proposition that required election officials to "reject" every voter registration application that is not accompanied by evidence of U.S. citizenship, the state decreed that registrants using the federal registration form would also have to produce an Arizona driver's license, birth certificate, or passport also accompany the form.

The Supreme Court, with Justice Antonin Scalia writing for a 7-2 majority, struck down Arizona's additional evidence-of-citizenship requirements, holding that the federal Motor Voter Law preempts the Arizona law.

But in what may be a sign of struggles to come, the court also held that any state could request that the federal Election Assistance Commission, which issues the federal registration forms, include additional state-specific instructions. One veteran Supreme Court watcher cautioned that the court's hidden message was that states, not the federal government, "retain the ultimate power to decide who gets to vote." Another worried that the decision ultimately may "hamper federal efforts to protect military voters and restore former offender voting rights."

Jenny Flanagan, director of voting and elections for Common Cause, praised the Court's ruling but cautioned that the decision was only one important step in expanding voting access.

"We hope that political leaders in Arizona and other states will see the wisdom of directing their energy toward expanding -- not limiting -- the right to vote," she said. "But as we celebrate today's victory, we and other voting rights advocates understand that this battle to protect voting rights isn't over."

Common Cause, represented by Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), is part of a coalition of individuals and advocacy groups that joined in challenging Arizona's attempt to impose additional voter registration requirements.

Nina Perales, a MALDEF who represented the plaintiffs, heralded today's decision as a victory not just for voters, but for "civic engagement overall."

Other voting rights groups across the country also applauded the court's ruling. Below is a compilation of reactions to the ruling:

"This decision reaffirms the principle that states may not undermine this critical law's effectiveness by adding burdens not required under federal law. In doing so, the court has taken a vital step in ensuring the ballot remain free, fair, and accessible for all citizens." --Laughlin McDonald, Special Counsel, ACLU Voting Rights Project

"Voters scored a huge victory today. We applaud the Supreme Court for confirming Congress's power to protect the right to vote in federal elections. Congress recognized that voter registration must be made more accessible when it passed the National Voter Registration Act, and the Court also affirmed that today." --Wendy Weiser, Democracy Program Director, The Brennan Center for Justice

"Arizona's [voter ID law] prevented many eligible citizens from registering to vote unless they were carrying with them specific documents, even when applicants attested to their citizenship under oath. Today's decision respects Congress's understanding that most citizens don't walk around with their birth certificates in their pockets, and even the most dedicated volunteer isn't going to drag around a photocopier." --Brenda Wright, VP for Legal Strategies,Demos

"Today's decision is a significant victory for U.S. citizens and their ability to register to vote without burdensome requirements. In our democracy, if you don't vote, you don't count, and the Arizona law was a blatant effort to keep some citizens from making their voice heard in our elections." --Wade Henderson, President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

"State restrictions lost: voters won today. The Court's ITCA decision safeguards the voter registration process from political manipulation and will help block attempts in the states to restrict the right to vote." -- Elisabeth MacNamara, President, League of Women Voters

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Voting and Elections

Tags: Registration and Voting Systems

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