Voter ID laws restrict democracy
Voter beware: Even if you are legally registered to vote at an Arizona residence, you may not be allowed to vote for state and local offices in 2014.
Last week, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne released an opinion directing the state’s top elections official, Secretary of State Ken Bennett, to implement a split election system in which voters will be restricted to a much shorter ballot if they only completed a federal voter registration form, which does not require proof of citizenship.
Arizona state law requires proof of citizenship from all voters in state and local elections, even for voters previously registered in another state or Arizona county, in the form of an Arizona driver’s license issued after 1996, a birth certificate, a passport, naturalization documents or a Tribal Certificate of Indian Blood.
At the federal level, however, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 created a universal voter registration form requiring that a person sign under penalty of perjury that he or she is a U.S. citizen, and mandates that those with a driver’s license or social security number provide that information; those without are given a separate ID number by the state.
There has not been a single prosecuted instance of a non-citizen using the federal form to unlawfully register to vote. In spite of this, Arizona decided that the requirements were too lax, and refused to accept the federal form.
The Supreme Court, however, ruled against the state in a 7-2 decision. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said, “a state-imposed requirement of evidence of citizenship not required by the Federal Form is ‘inconsistent with’ the NVRA’s mandate that States ‘accept and use’ the Federal Form.”
Horne seems to be trying to find a hole in the Supreme Court ruling by creating the split election system. He wrote in his official opinion last week that “registrants who have not provided sufficient evidence of citizenship should not be permitted to vote in state and local elections.”
While requiring voters to prove their citizenship may seem like common sense, a 2006 study by the Brennan Center for Justice found that at least 7 percent of legally eligible voters don’t have ready access to the documents necessary to prove citizenship and 34 percent of all women don’t have these documents under their current, married name. In addition to women, these eligible voters include rural and poor citizens who have trouble reaching the required government offices during business hours, older voters who were never issued a birth certificate, naturalized citizens — and frankly anyone who doesn’t have the time, money or knowledge to request copies of their documents from federal databases.
According to the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF), immediately after the Arizona proof of citizenship law was passed, some 31,500 people were rejected for voter registration. Less than one-third of these rejected would-be voters went on to file a successful voter registration form. That makes at least 21,000 casualties of the law, almost half of whom were under 30.
Grassroots efforts to register more eligible voters were also hurt: MALDEF found that the number of registrations from community-based drives in Maricopa County decreased from 24 percent in 2004 to 7 percent in 2005.
Data compiled by News21, which is based at Arizona State University, revealed there have only been seven voter fraud cases prosecuted (but not necessarily convicted) in Arizona between 2000 and 2012. Four of these cases dealt with citizens who voted twice, a problem not prevented by the proof of citizenship law. In the country at large, similar trends can be observed. During four years of intense focus on voter fraud between 2002 and 2005, the Department of Justice only filed 38 cases, and some U.S. attorneys were fired after speaking out about the baselessness of prosecuting even those 38 cases.
Talk of voter fraud is merely a cover for Republican attempts to rig the 2014 elections in their favor.
A 2003 study in the American Journal of Political Science demonstrated that higher voter turnout could improve Democrats’ electoral prospects. While the study said higher turnout typically just narrows the margin in elections, and is not usually enough to completely shift an election’s results from Republican to Democrat, you tell me which is more likely to adversely impact the results of an election: seven cases of voter fraud over the course of 12 years, or potentially banning 7 percent of eligible citizens from voting?
The 10 states with the highest turnout in 2012 all voted for President Barack Obama. Minorities, the poor and young voters are all more likely to be affected by voter suppression schemes, and all of these constituencies favor more liberal candidates.
If democracy is rule by the people, we should want as much of the citizenry to vote as possible, especially in state and local elections, where turnout is traditionally dismally low.
Not only does weeding eligible voters out of the state election system create a second-class citizenry, but, considering that the only two states to have previously attempted a split election system lost in court, this move is sure to cost taxpayer money in another losing court battle with the federal government.
Jacqui Oesterblad is a junior studying global studies, political science, Middle Eastern & North African studies. Follow @joesterblad.