Arizona’s Proof-of-Citizenship Voter Registration Illegal

Arizona’s “proof-of-citizenship” requirement for voter registration is preempted by the National Voter Registration Act, as applied to federal voting by mail, says a federal appeals court.

But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, by an 8-2 vote, did hold that Arizona may require voters to show identification at polling places in order to vote, without violating equal protection rights.

Arizona voters passed Proposition 200 in 2004, requiring state residents to show proof of citizenship when they register to vote in state and federal elections.

The 9th Circuit held that the Prop. 200 registration provision clashes with the NVRA by adding the proof of citizenship requirement to the federal form and thus making the form more difficult to use.

But the appeals court rejected the claim that Arizona’s requirement at the polling place abridged the right to vote on account of race or color by allegedly making it more difficult for Latinos to vote.

Shortly after the initiative’s passage Jesus Gonzalez and the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona filed suit challenging the law and seeking an injunction against its enforcement.

The injunction was initially denied, but imposed on appeal to the 9th Circuit and then lifted by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The trial judge in Arizona then held that Prop. 200’s polling place ID provision was not a poll tax and the citizenship showing for registration did not conflict with the NVRA.

Gonzalez and the tribal council appealed to the 9th Circuit that ruling and the majority decision Tuesday were essentially the same.  The proof of citizenship requirement is preempted by the NVRA but the requirement to show ID at the polling place is permitted.

The majority found there was no evidence that Latinos’ ability or inability to obtain identification for voting purposes left them with less opportunity to participate in the political process.

Requiring voters to show identification at the polls does not constitute a poll tax, according to the court.

In a partial dissent, Judge Harry Pregerson wrote that statistics show Prop. 200’s polling place ID provision falls more harshly on Latino voters, when coupled with Arizona’s long history of discrimination against Latinos.

Judge Johnnie Rawlinson partially dissented for different reasons.  She would have allowed the proof-of-citizenship provision to survive saying it did not conflict with the NVRA.

Judge Sandra Ikuta wrote the majority decision.  Joining Rawlinson’s dissent was Judge N. Randy Smith. 

The vote did not total 11 judges as is the usual case in en banc review because Judge Pamela Rymer died before she could vote on the final opinion.

Case: Gonzalez v. State of Arizona, No. 08-17094

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