Monday, April 23, 2007
Court Upholds Restrictive Voter Registration Requirements
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Friday affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction that would have barred Arizona from requiring residents to prove their citizenship when they register to vote.
Opponents of Proposition 200, an initiative adopted in 2004, said the law severely burdens the right to vote, discriminates against naturalized citizens, and amounts to a poll tax because of the costs associated with acquiring the required documentation. The Ninth Circuit, however, said the evidence presented in support of the preliminary injunction motion did not show that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail.
Proposition 200, which also requires voters to present identification when voting in person, was before the Ninth Circuit for a second time. A two-judge motions panel last year granted an emergency injunction that would have prevented officials from enforcing the voter-identification requirement for last November’s election, but the U.S. Supreme Court lifted the injunction.
The high court said that because the motions panel gave no reasons for its ruling, it could not be determined whether the appellate judges gave the required deference to U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver’s denial of the motion for preliminary injunction. In a concurring opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens suggested that the appellate court would benefit from the development of a full record concerning the impact of the restrictions and the extent of the alleged voter fraud that Proposition 200’s sponsors said it was likely to deter.
After the initiative was implemented for the election, the plaintiffs chose not to continue to seek injunctive relief with regard to the election-day identification requirement, but to appeal Silver’s ruling with regard to the documentation required to register.
Chief Judge Mary M. Schroeder, however, in her opinion Friday, said the district judge did not abuse her discretion.
Schroeder rejected the poll tax argument, distinguishing a 1965 case in which the Supreme Court struck down a Virginia law that required voters to either pay a poll tax or to file a certificate of residency. By imposing a condition on voting that could be avoided by paying the tax, the high court ruled, the state was violating the Twenty-fourth Amendment, which says that no person can be denied the right to vote in a federal election for not paying a poll tax.
“Here, voters do not have to choose between paying a poll tax and providing proof of citizenship when they register to vote. They have only to provide the proof of citizenship.”
Nor, the chief judge said, did the plaintiffs demonstrate that the burden of documenting citizenship as a prerequisite to voter registration is “severe.” None of the plaintiffs—a combination of individuals and minority voter and community groups, along with the League of Women Voters and People for the American Way—claimed to have been burdened themselves, she said.
Given that most voters already are likely to have possess at least one of the required documents—an Arizona driver’s license or identification card issued since 1996, when the state first required proof of lawful presence in the United States to obtain such identification; a legible copy of a birth certificate or passport; documents or a certificate number establishing that the prospective voter is a naturalized citizen; or any document deemed sufficient to prove citizenship under federal law—the burden of compliance cannot be considered sever absent “development of a full record,” chief judge said.
There was no showing, Schroeder went on to say, that naturalized citizens face a greater burden in complying. While there is a legal question as to whether naturalization papers may legally be copied, she acknowledged, this is no burden to registering since a naturalized citizen may qualify by providing the number of the naturalization certificate.
Nor, the chief judge wrote, does the law violate the National Voter Registration Act, also known as the “motor voter law.” The plaintiffs, Schroeder said, did not show that the law prohibits states from requiring proof of citizenship in order to vote.
The case is Gonzalez v. State of Arizona, 06-16521.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company