The Akron Beacon Journal
The U.S. Supreme Court’s 7-2 ruling this week that Arizona may not require proof of citizenship from those seeking to vote in federal elections is welcome news for an elections system often bogged down by disputes over voter fraud. The court correctly followed the broad intent of the “motor voter” registration law, striking down a substantial barrier to the ballot box.
In Arizona, officials went far beyond what was required on the voter registration form called for in the federal law. That form asks voters to check a box indicating whether or not they are citizens, then sign under the penalty of perjury. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, argued that the law requiring states to “accept and use” the federal form meant what it said.
In other words, the majority concluded that states cannot impose additional burdens such as the one approved by Arizona voters in 2004, when they passed a ballot measure that required documents such as an Arizona driver’s license issued after 1996, a U.S. birth certificate or a passport.
In its arguments, the state held that illegal immigration compromised the credibility of its elections. Yet the signed statement required in the federal registration form represents a significant hurdle. Meanwhile, those challenging the Arizona law pointed persuasively to tens of thousands of Arizona citizens denied the right to vote because they could not produce the required documents when they went to register.
With instances of voter fraud extremely rare across the country, the Supreme Court’s ruling hardly compromises confidence in fair elections in Arizona. Instead, it reaffirms the sound thinking behind the “motor voter” law, intended to make registration easier, expanding access to the polls for millions across the country.
The court also advanced the cause of much-needed uniformity across an often fragmented elections system. That is, up to a point.
Justice Scalia reminded that Arizona has another option, appealing to the federal Elections Assistance Commission to make changes to the federal registration form and go beyond what the “motor voter” law specifies. Louisiana recently received permission to request additional information from voters. So, an opening remains for trouble-making, all but ensuring the courts once again will be asked to weight whether a state has gone too far.