What's at Stake
Whether Arizona may require proof of citizenship before registering to vote in federal elections when federal law does not.
On June 17, 2013, in a 7-2 ruling, the Supreme Court invalidated Arizona’s burdensome voter registration requirement.
Under the Constitution, Congress has the ultimate authority for regulating federal elections. As part of that authority, Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA, more commonly known as the “motor voter” law). The goal of the law was to make voter registration more convenient and accessible. By creating a registration form that all states must “accept and use,” the law enabled the expansion of mail-in registration and voter registration drives.
Anyone seeking to register to vote using the federal form must sign a statement swearing that he or she is a U.S. citizen. Nonetheless, in 2004, Arizona passed Proposition 200, which requires prospective voters to provide documentary proof of citizenship–such as a birth certificates, passports or Native American tribal ID cards not actually used in Arizona–in order to register to vote.
Nationwide, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, approximately 13 million Americans do not possess documentary proof of their citizenship. Birth certificates were often not issued to U.S. citizens such Native Americans born on reservations, and those born at home or delivered by midwives during the 1930s and 1940s. In addition, women, who often change their names upon marriage, are far less likely to possess a birth certificate or other documents accurately reflecting their names. These documents are expensive and often difficult to acquire. Under Proposition 200, those who lack the required documents will either have to pay to procure them or be unable to vote.
Along with other civil rights groups, the ACLU challenged Proposition 200 as inconsistent with federal law. The Ninth Circuit court found that Proposition 200 conflicted with the NVRA, and that the NVRA takes precedence over state law. Arizona appealed this ruling, and the Supreme Court will decide whether the state has the power to impose such a requirement beyond what the federal law permits.