Jesus Gonzalez registered to vote immediately after his naturalization ceremony that was held in the Yuma County federal courthouse in 2005. Gonzalez immigrated to the United States in the 1960s and had finally become a citizen.
We should all have an equal right to elect the people who make the decisions in our country. I want to have a voice in the United States.
But, because of an overly burdensome Arizona law, Prop. 200, Gonzalez’s voter registration application was denied twice. He eventually had to pay $112.95 to get a U.S. passport, just to be able to vote.
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona Inc., determining the constitutionality of Arizona’s Prop. 200, a law that requires voters to present certain documents as proof of U.S. citizenship when using the federal form to register to vote at the polls. Voting rights advocates say the documentation requirement violates federal law and is bad policy. Arizona’s law has resulted in the rejection of tens of thousands of eligible voter registrants, like Gonzalez. Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which are arguing the case before the Supreme Court on behalf of the plaintiffs, assert that “Arizona is ignoring the congressional mandate that states ‘accept and use’ the Federal Mail-In Voter Registration Form.”
Not only is Arizona’s statute a violation of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), but it is also misguided.
Arizona’s Prop. 200 is a state ballot initiative, approved in November 2004, that requires election officials to “reject” every voter registration application lacking certain documentation that Arizona claims establishes U.S. citizenship. The required documentation under Prop. 200 includes Arizona driver licenses issued after 1996, U.S. birth certificates and passports.
Following implementation of Prop. 200, voter registration through community drives in Arizona’s most populous county plummeted 44% and has remained low through two presidential election cycles.
The Lawyers' Committee and MALDEF say that Congress has clear constitutional authority to regulate federal elections, authority that the Supreme Court has always recognized. Under that authority, Congress enacted several registration procedures that all states must use in addition to the states’ own procedures. The NVRA was intended to provide several simple, uniform voter registration procedures that would apply to voters regardless of the states in which they live.
Arizona’s attempt to create additional registration burdens is inconsistent with the NVRA and should be declared unlawful. Among the many reasons Congress is empowered to make these rules is to prevent states from enacting a wide range of burdensome requirements that will ultimately block U.S. citizens from exercising their right to vote.
The voting rights legal experts agree there is no need for this provision in Arizona. The federal postcard application already contains safeguards against fraud and Arizona does not point to a single instance in which the federal registration form resulted in election fraud.
The Supreme Court heard arguments in a separate case dealing with voter rights last month, Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder.
Shelby County v. Holder is a constitutional challenge brought by an Alabama county seeking to have the 2006 reauthorization of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act invalidated. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is a totally separate statute from the NVRA and requires federal review to screen for racially discriminatory changes to voting procedures in all or part of sixteen 16 states. Section 5 is a temporary provision that Congress has reauthorized four times after it was first adopted in 1965. Section 5 enforces the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.