Friday, October 18, 2013
The states of Arizona and Kansas have announced that they will require voters to register separately for state and federal elections--using the standard federal form for federal elections, but using more stringent requirements for state registration.
The moves are a response to the Supreme Court's ruling this summer in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. That case held that the federal requirement under the National Voter Registration Act that states "accept and use" an approved and uniform federal form for registering voters preempted Arizona's requirement that voters present evidence of citizenship at registration. (Under this system, state voters could register for federal and state elections all at once, using the same standardized federal form, with the same requirements.) The result: the Court struck Arizona's proof-of-citizenship add-on to the standardized federal form.
So the states sought a work-around, so that they could retain a proof-of-citizenship requirement for some voter registration. And they came up with the only voter registration that they now seem to have control over: registration for state elections.
The states say that Inter Tribal applies only to federal elections, that they can design and use their own forms for state elections, and that voters who register using only the federal form are qualified only to vote in federal elections (and not state and local elections). To the states, this all means that a two-tiered system makes sense.
Under the two-tiered system, voters in those states could register for federal elections using the NVRA standardized federal form. But voters would have to show additional proof of citizenship--of the kind struck in Inter Tribal--in order to register to vote in state elections.
The moves harken back to practices in the Jim Crow South and stand as a barrier to voter registration. Ari Berman argues over at The Nation:
In the Jim Crow South, citizens often had to register multiple times, with different clerks, to be able to vote in state and federal elections. It was hard enough to register once in states like Mississippi, were only 6.7 percent of African-Americans were registered to vote before the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And when the federal courts struck down a literacy test or a poll tax before 1965, states like Mississippi still retained them for state and local elections, thereby preventing African-American voters from replacing those officials most responsible for upholding voter disenfranchisement laws. . . .
Over 300,000 voters were prevented from registering in Arizona after its proof-of-citizenship law passed in 2004. In Kansas, 17,000 voters have been blocked from registering this year, a third of all registered applicants, because the DMV doesn't transfer citizenship documents to election officials.
At the very least, the two-tiered systems promise to complicate voter registration and maintenance of voter lists for the states.
Still: there's little or no evidence of voter fraud.