Yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down one of its first major decisions of this term, striking down Arizona’s measure requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration. Media reports are already off base in interpreting this decision, says Heritage legal expert Hans von Spakovsky. Here are three things to know about the decision.
1. This is not a voter ID decision.
This decision has to do with voter registration, not the act of voting. Von Spakovsky explains:
In 2004, Arizona voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum that had two major components: voter ID for in-person voting and a requirement that anyone registering to vote provide proof of citizenship. The voter ID provision was not before the Supreme Court and is alive and well in Arizona. (emphasis added)
Although it did not strike down the provision that requires a photo ID for in-person voting, von Spakovsky said “the Supreme Court came down on the wrong side of election integrity” with this ruling.
2. Federal law already mandates that a person must be a U.S. citizen to vote.
The Court’s ruling does not mean that requiring proof of citizenship is bad or wrong. In fact, people are supposed to vote only if they are citizens.
The Court ruled the way it did because there is already a federal law requiring people to affirm that they are U.S. citizens when they register to vote. Most people register using the federal mail-in form under the “Motor Voter” law. The majority of the justices said that federal requirement “preempts” Arizona’s requirement, which simply means the federal law comes first.
But Arizona residents can register to vote using the federal form or a state form. Von Spakovsky notes that “Arizona can continue to require proof of citizenship for anyone who registers using the state form.”
3. States do determine the qualifications of their voters.
If Arizona has information about a voter that shows he or she is not eligible to vote, then the state still decides who is a legitimate voter.
Von Spakovsky says:
The Court specifically noted that under our Constitution, states have the exclusive right to determine the qualifications of voters in federal elections, and Arizona can deny registration to anyone who submits a federal form if it has other information in its possession that establishes the ineligibility of the applicant.
Making sure that only U.S. citizens are voting is vital to the integrity of American elections. This Supreme Court decision basically kept the status quo, and meanwhile, voting reforms are needed.