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April 17, 2012
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PASADENA, Calif. -- In a decision of national significance, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today ruled that voter registration provisions of Arizona’s Proposition 200 violate the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). The ruling blocks an unnecessary and burdensome requirement for voter registration that could prevent eligible citizens from exercising their fundamental right to vote.
The court ruled that the NVRA-mandated mail-in federal voter registration form must be accepted by Arizona election officials, even if the applicants do not provide the U.S. citizenship documents required by Proposition 200. The case, Inter Tribal Council of Arizona v. State of Arizona, stems from a 2006 lawsuit brought on behalf of the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, State Senator Steve Gallardo, the Arizona Advocacy Network , the League of United Latin American Citizens of Arizona, the Hopi Tribe, and the League of Women Voters of Arizona, by attorneys from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the ACLU Voting Rights Project, and the law firms of Osborne Maledon, Steptoe & Johnson and the Sparks Law Firm.
“We are elated that a strong majority of the en banc panel found Arizona’s citizenship requirement violated the NVRA,” said Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel for the Lawyers’ Committee, who argued the case before the court. “This will enable our clients to be able to register to vote and conduct voter registration drives more easily.”
The rejected proof of citizenship provision was one component of Proposition 200, which passed in 2004. That provision required documentary proof of citizenship for all new voter registrants in Arizona and has resulted in the rejection of tens of thousands of voter registration forms. The NVRA requires that states “accept and use” a National Mail Voter Registration Form (“Federal Form”) prescribed and issued by the Election Assistance Commission (“EAC”), which includes an affirmation of citizenship by the applicant under penalty of perjury. The en banc court held today that “Arizona’s rejection of every Federal Form submitted without proof of citizenship does not constitute ‘accepting and using’ the Federal Form.”
“The court was correct in ruling that federal law does not require residents to produce unnecessary documents proving their citizenship in order to register to vote,” said Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “This is an important victory at a time many states are making it harder for people to exercise their fundamental right to vote, which is the backbone of our democracy. We hope this decision sends a message to other states that we should not be making it harder for people to participate in our political process.”
Across the nation the right to vote is under attack and Proposition 200 in Arizona was one example of such efforts. Others efforts include laws that require government-issued photo IDs, limit early voting opportunities and place undue restrictions on third-party voting.
The court’s decision in the Arizona case recognizes Congress’ broad powers to govern registration procedures for federal elections, and will enable poor, elderly and minority voters to once again avail themselves of voter registration drives and the mail-in registration process without the cost, procedural hassles and privacy concerns that go along with mailing in copies of birth certificates or other evidence of citizenship.
The case is Inter Tribal Council of Arizona v. State of Arizona, No. 08-17115 (9th Cir.) (en banc). Read the Court’s 9-2 decision.
About the Lawyers’ Committee
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and fair lending, community development, employment discrimination, voting, education and environmental justice. For more information about the LCCRUL, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.