Supreme Court bars states from requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration

In a less-celebrated win for voting rights advocates yesterday, the Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal from Arizona and Kansas seeking to allow them to require proof of citizenship for voter registration in federal elections.

The ruling comes two years after the Court ruled that Arizona could not require citizens to provide proof of citizenship when using the “federal form,” a standard voter registration form issued by the US Election Assistance Commission, which all states are required to accept. That ruling allowed Arizona to go to the EAC and ask for special permission to implement the requirement. The state made that request, and their request was denied, prompting this latest appeal.

As the EAC noted when they denied the request, when voters register using the federal form, they are already required to swear they are citizens under penalty of perjury. Adding an additional citizenship requirement on top of that is both burdensome and frivolous.

However, as the ruling only affects voters registering for federal elections, Arizona and Kansas will now have two lists of voters: those they consider eligible to vote in all elections and those they consider eligible to vote in federal but not state elections. In their appeal, they argued that this discrepancy — of their own creation — creates a burden that the EAC can and should correct for by allowing them to require proof of citizenship for all registrations.

In short, Arizona and Kansas intentionally made it more difficult and confusing for their citizens to register to vote; the Supreme Court said that they’d have to ask the government if that was OK; the government said no; and then the states asked the government to say yes because it would be inconvenient if they said no.

And they really, really want to make sure that the white right people are voting in their elections.

Voter registration drive, via Stephen Orsillo / Shutterstock

Voter registration, via Stephen Orsillo / Shutterstock

Of course, the specter of illegal immigrants stealing elections is hardly enough to justify an extremely burdensome requirement on voter registration. After all, if you are an undocumented immigrant trying to avoid deportation, the last thing you want to do is perjure yourself by claiming you are a citizen on a federal form that asks for your address and last four digits of your Social Security number. To be clear, it does happen, but requiring a photocopy of a birth certificate to go along with each voter registration form isn’t an acceptable solution to the problem.

That is, if you think it’s a problem in the first place. Non-citizens are often as much a part of society as everyone else,save for their lack of official documentation. They work alongside us, their children go to our schools and many pay taxes. Why shouldn’t they be allowed to register and vote? And if we’re really so averse to allowing these employed taxpayers to register and vote because of their official status as non-citizens, let’s get them a path to citizenship. If everyone has legal status, then there aren’t any illegal immigrants registered to vote.

While this case did not directly address the question of whether undocumented immigrants should be afforded representation — either by proxy or directly at the ballot box — it comes one year in advance of a case that will. Next year, the Court will hear Evenwel v Abbott, in which plaintiffs are arguing that non-citizen populations should be excluded when drawing congressional and legislative district lines. In their view, disproportionate allocation of non-citizens leads to the districts in which they live having inflated representation, as fewer eligible voters in those districts means that each voter has a greater effect on the outcome of elections. To them, it does not matter that those non-citizens are directly affected by the decisions the representatives of those districts make.

Apparently, “one person, one vote” isn’t complicated enough for those on the right.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

Share This Post

  • DoverBill

    If ya can’t join ’em, beat ’em by hook or by crook?

  • It’s long since been evident that America’s demographics are changing…and the hardline GOP leaders know the only way they’ll continue to wield majority power in a country where they are a minority of eligible voters is to ensure only their people get to vote.

  • The last thing someone here (or anywhere) illegally wants to do is get caught and deported. I can’t believe that there are enough illegals voting to swing any elections, not even the close ones.

  • nicho

    Easier solution. Anyone who lives here gets to vote. Problem solved.

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