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American? Prove it: Justices to rule on voter proof of citizenship

October 15, 2012|By David G. Savage
  • The high court voted to hear Arizona's appeal of an anti-fraud provision that was struck down by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, weighing in on voter fraud prevention measures.
The high court voted to hear Arizona's appeal of an anti-fraud provision… (Charlie Neibergall / Associated…)

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court will weigh in on the controversy over voter fraud and decide whether Arizona can require residents to show proof of their citizenship before they register to vote.

The justices voted to hear Arizona's appeal of an anti-fraud provision that was struck down by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The high court will not hear the case until early next year, with a ruling expected in the spring.

Although many states seek to require more proof of a voter's identity when they cast a ballot, Arizona wants to require more documentation from those who seek to register to vote. 

Arizona's voters in 2004 adopted Proposition 200, which included new provisions designed to prevent illegal immigrants from voting. Those wanting to register to vote were told they must submit proof of their citizenship. They could show an Arizona’s driver's license, a U.S. passport, a birth certificate or naturalization documents.

But this provision was challenged in court and blocked from taking effect. The 9th Circuit said the requirement for extra documents clashed with the federal “motor voter” legislation of 1993, which was designed to make it easier for people to register to vote by filling out a federal form and sending it through the mail. The form requires applicants to certify they are citizens entitled to vote.

A panel of 9th Circuit judges, including retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, struck down the Arizona provision because it conflicted with the federal law. The Constitution says Congress may override state rules for elections, the judges said.

But Arizona's lawyers appealed, arguing that voting in federal elections should be restricted to citizens only. Without the provision that was stricken by the 9th Circuit, "Arizona is forced to accept what amounts to an honors system as to whether the applicants are citizens or not,” said state Atty. Gen. Thomas Horne.

Four other states -- Georgia, Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee -- have enacted similar laws requiring new voters to show a proof of citizenship, the court was told.

The Arizona law is not in effect this year. The justices voted to hear the case of Arizona vs. InterTribal Council, to decide the issue by next June.

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