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Supreme Court Decision on Arizona Stirs Up Muddied Waters on Elections Registrations

By Sergio H. Benavides, June 17, 2013

Some Arizonans now probably feel that teeming crowds of undocumented immigrants—more likely than not, Mexicans—are probably champing at the bits to go out and vote unlawfully now. Voter fraud will now run rampant, they say.

Voter rights advocates are relieved. Arizona lost. Voters won. That’s how some are describing the results of today’s U.S. Supreme Court Ruling, in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, striking down Arizona’s state law requiring proof of U.S. Citizenship before people can register to vote.

The media and online press is full of quotations from voter’s rights advocates gleefully talking about how cumbersome it was for minorities, the elderly, and students, to provide a driver license, passport, or birth certificate, and that these rules are meant to suppress voter participation in elections. That all may be true, but the high court’s decision is not simple. Arizona’s proof of citizenship advocates say it isn’t over, and that they can still win. I can’t easily find my birth certificate or passport, and find the law annoying, but they may are right.

It came down to the Federal Government’s right to dictate procedures for federal elections

In 1993, congress passed the National Voter Registration Act, mandating that states “must accept” a federal form to register voters for federal elections. The form is a postcard, where a person signs an oath swearing he or she is a U.S. citizen. It’s the honor code. Arizona doesn’t think voters are honorable, so it passed a law demanding I.D.

Precedent allows federal laws to pre-empt state laws when the two forms of government are in conflict. Arizona thumbed its nose at U.S. law by passing its proof-of-citizenship law, by demanding more than the U.S. government does when it comes to filing out voter registration cards. Hence, the conflict.

But Justice Antonin Scalia left the door open for those worried about voter fraud and illegal immigration, by reminding Arizona that they can apply to elections commission to include their I.D. rule in the voter registration forms.

If an Arizonan fills out a federal card to register to vote, they would currently be allowed to vote without showing I.D. Arizona can then “retaliate” by revising their laws, and making it so that if you register to vote on a federal postcard, you are then only registered and able to vote in a federal election. The U.S. rules can only control U.S.-related elections. Arizona can then continue to demand I.D. for Arizona-only laws, elections, and measures. It could become a war of sorts between the States and the feds.

Really, this is about Arizona’s frustration with illegal immigration. So they pass laws to “fix” a problem. The problem is, there is scant, if any, proof of rampant voter fraud. Why would an undocumented immigrant, who lives in the shadows uninterested in being detected, go out and call attention to him or herself by voting? That makes no sense.

But as long as voting, voting rights, and registration is on the mindset of America, we should advocate for elections reforms. We should not let what happened in 2000, when Al Gore lost to President Bush because of hanging chads and disparate elections procedures, happen again. There should be uniformity across the country. Citizens should be able to vote for a member of congress just as easily as they can vote for the next American Idol. It’s shameful that we can’t.

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