onday, the Supreme Court struck down a 2004 Arizona law that required documentation of citizenship in order to register to vote. This has prompted many individuals, even in the media, to triumphantly claim that the Supreme Court has invalidated voter identification laws at the state level.
Not surprisingly, these individuals are incorrect.
First, the 2004 Arizona law was about documentation at the registration step, not the voting step. At question was Arizona’s refusal to accept voter registrations from the DMV through the “motor voter” law because such registrations did not require documentation of citizenship. At no point in this process did Arizona require photo identification, nor did they refuse to allow these people to register, so long as they provided documentation.
Second, the Supreme Court did not strike down Arizona’s law on the basis of its constitutionality. Instead, the Supreme Court found that the state law contradicted a federal law which aimed at streamlining registration state-by-state and making the registration process easier for citizens. As a result, the Supreme Court knows that the federal law, which is constitutional, trumped the state law, regardless of its constitutionality.
Third, the Supreme Court states that Arizona could seek federal approval to include the documentation requirement as a state-specific requirement if it could successfully argue the need.
What this means is that the Supreme Court believes Arizona has the right to control its voter rolls, but that due to a federal law, it does not have the ability to pass a state law that contradicts the federal law.
It is important to note that the Supreme Court does not mention anything about the actual vote casting process or photo identification requirements.
It could be argued that a state’s voter identification laws could violate a federal statute, like this case, though that likely would have come up in the cases which the Supreme Court has already decided in favor of photo identification laws.
Arizona’s case is strong: Being able to register without documentation of citizenship could allow noncitizens to register to vote in such a heavy noncitizen state like Arizona. However, the legality is pretty clear on the issue, as well. The federal statute does not require documentation of citizenship, therefore, a state statute in conflict with that is null and void.
Congress should now take it upon itself to modify the motor voter law to require documentation of citizenship to register to vote, and I believe that one of Arizona’s congressmen will introduce such legislation. If that does happen, just remember that this issue is not about putting up hurdles for legal citizens to vote, though many in the media will claim it is and group it into the voter identification category.
Instead, readers must realize, it is about protecting the sanctity of the American voting process that is reserved for citizens.
Trenton Winford is a public policy leadership major from Madison.