Voting law cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court are coming fast and furious. Last month, the court heard argument on whether to drop Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. On Monday, the Supreme Court justices heard the Arizona voting law case of whether Arizona may add an additional requirement to the federal law on registering voters. It is not a voter fraud or voter ID case. This case hinges on Arizona law that requires a first time voter registrant must provide proof of citizenship. The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate federal elections. Under the National Voter Registration Act (“NVRA”), the federal law for federal elections requires that a voter must only complete a form attesting under penalty of perjury that he or she is a U.S. citizen. Nothing else is required.
Arizona’s law attempts to interfere with the federal regulation of federal elections. In most circumstances, a state law may not interfere with a federal one. And the previous appeals courts to hear this case decided that Arizona’s law was fundamentally flawed because it interfered with the federal regulation of federal elections. Arizona contends that it may add on provisions to the law. Most legal scholars disagree.
The Arizona law resulted in decreased voter registration drives since instead of just signing a form, a new voter would need a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship before registering to vote. And it gets even more confusing for women. In instances where the name of a woman is now changed from her birth name whether due to marriage or any other reason, she would also need to provide a marriage certificate to show how her name changed from her birth certificate. In 90% of marriages, women change their name whether by hyphenation or assuming the last name of the spouse.
The present federal law allows for penalties if a person attempted to register to vote who was not a citizen. Perjury carries a term of imprisonment. And there is not real proof that non-citizens are attempting to register to vote. Nonetheless, Arizona is fighting the need for this law all the way to the Supreme Court. It seems that a more beneficial use of state money could be used elsewhere. Most legal analysts do not think the Supreme Court will rule in Arizona’s favor.
Presently, there is a bill pending in Congress to further streamline federal elections. If the Supreme Court upholds Arizona’s law, it would have devastating effects as other states will no doubt join on the Arizona band wagon to make it difficult for persons to register to vote. This case puts a chilling effect on voter registration. In the present Arizona case, the individual involved was a new citizen who was denied the right to register because he was unable to provide proof of his citizenship. He attempted to register to vote on the same day that he became a citizen.
The Voter Empowerment Act (“VEA”) presently pending in Congress would be affected by the Supreme Court’s decision should the court uphold Arizona’s law. Under the VEA, attempts are being made to make voting easier in federal elections and allowing the states to control their own state elections. The Voter Empowerment Act would bring our voting system in federal elections up to the 21st century with Internet modernization.
In modernizing and bringing voter registration up to 21st century standards, the VEA would allow citizens to register to vote by email. And to further encourage greater participation of voters, universities would be treated as voter registration agencies and register students to vote at time of their enrollment of college. And for all of the proposed new changes, no proof of citizenship is required in the federal registration process—only a single form.
The Supreme Court is expected to render an opinion by June, 2013. And with the Supreme Court split between liberals and conservative justices, it’s anyone’s guess if the Arizona law will be defeated or whether the Supremes will find some oddball way to decide in Arizona’s favor.