Arizona's Voter ID Law Upheld by Ninth Circuit Court -- in Part; Federal Voter-Registration Forms Must be Accepted, Though -- Meaning Non-Citizens Could Still Vote

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld -- in part -- Arizona's voter-approved 2004 law requiring voters to show proof of citizenship before receiving a ballot.

The Appeals Court en banc panel mostly shot down the challenges to the law, which had itself been upheld in Arizona U.S.  District Court and by an earlier ruling by the Ninth Circuit.

Arizona can demand to see certain forms of identification that proves citizenship, the court ruled. And if someone doesn't have those forms of ID, paying the fees to obtain the ID isn't the same as a "poll tax."

However, the court also ruled that Arizona must not refuse federal voter-registration forms, which work on the honor system by asking applicants to check a box saying whether they're U.S. citizens. Arizona can't replace that form with its form that requires proof of citizenship, the court ruled.

What that means is that non-citizens could, theoretically, still vote in Arizona elections. At least, in federal elections. We're still unclear about whether voters not using the federal voter registration form could still be required to prove citizenship when registering to vote with an Arizona registration form. We plan to file an update on this situation later.

Once the registration form is complete, Arizona election officials will continue to require voters to show ID -- but that ID could merely be a combination of a utility bill and a bank statement.

Activist groups representing Hispanics, American Indians, and women had challenged the law, claiming it was unconstitutional and violated the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.

Here's a list of the plaintiffs and appellants:

Maria Gonzalez
Luciano Valencia
The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc.
Arizona Advocacy Netowrk
Steve Gallardo, Democratic state lawmaker
League of United Latin American Citizens Arizona
League of Women Voters of Arizona
People for the American Way Foundation
Hopi Tribe
Bernie Abeytia
Arizona Hispanic Community Forum
Chicanos por la Causa
Friendly House
Jesus Gonzalez
Debbie Lopez
Southwest Voter Registration Education Project
Valle del Sol
Project Vote

The plaintiffs in the case did not prove that the ability of Hispanics to participate in the political process was lessened somehow because of the law, the Ninth found.

Judge Johnnie Rawlinson dissented, finding that Arizona could reject federal voter registration forms in place of its own form.

Judge Harry Pregerson also dissented, but for a different reason. He believes the polling-place ID provision discriminates against Hispanics. He wrote:

History has also shown that when a Latino voter approaches the polling place but is stopped by a person perceived to be an authority figure checking for identification,
there's something intimidating about that experience that evokes fear of discrimination. This intimidation has the effect of keeping Latino voters away from the polls.

The plaintiffs can still appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Click here for the Ninth Circuit Court's ruling in Jesus Gonzalez vs. State of Arizona.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.