State Can't Hide Federal Voter Registration Form, Judge Rules in Latest Blow to '04 Law

Arizona must make the federal voter-registration form just as available to voters as a state registration form which requires proof of citizenship, a judge ruled today.

The "final judgment" by Arizona Senior U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver follows up on June's U.S. Supreme Court order which struck down the voter-approved 2004 Arizona law requiring proof of citizenship to vote.

What the new ruling boils down to is this: Arizona officials can't hide from would-be voters the federal registration form, which requires only that voters check a box indicating they're citizens instead of proving citizenship with additional documentation.

See also: - Supreme Court Strikes Down Proof-of-Citizenship Provision in Proposition 200

Voters worried that illegal immigrants might influence Arizona elections passed Proposition 200 in 2004, requiring all voters to prove they were citizens and present photo ID at the polls. After a lawsuit was filed by the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, the law was struck down in 2010 by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In a 7-2 ruling on June 17, the U.S. Supreme Court supported the law's quashing, saying the state can't burden voters in federal elections with a more stringent requirement for registration than the federal system.

Tom Horne, state Attorney General, and Ken Bennett, secretary of state, didn't like that ruling and launched a lawsuit last month that, if successful, would allow Arizona to require proof of citizenship on the federal voter-registration form.

As that court challenge develops, today's ruling by Silver seems designed to make sure Arizona doesn't employ any sneaky methods to get around the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, like making the federal form scarce.

First, Silver's ruling makes another official declaration that the Inter Tribal Council has won the lawsuit, and that Arizona is required to "accept and use" the National Mail Voter Registration Form for registering voters for federal elections. Arizona is precluded from requiring voters to submit more documentation than is called for by the federal form itself, she writes, permanently blocking Arizona from implementing that part of the law.

But the interesting part is what follows: Silver orders that Arizona:

"...shall make the Federal Form (and the applicable instructions) available through all reasonable channels, including including all channels Defendants use to make the State registration form available (including websites). Defendants also shall ensure that all written materials regarding the process for registering to vote, that Defendants distribute or make available to the public (including websites), include a statement that individuals may apply to register to vote in elections for Federal office using the Federal Form, and that, in using the Federal Form, applicants are not required to provide the documentary proof of citizenship information set forth in A.R.S. §§ 16-166(F)-(J) in order to register to vote."

In other words, the state may not like the "on-your-honor," checked-box system of the federal form -- but they have to make certain that whenever Arizona disseminates info about how to register to vote, it must also inform would-be voters that they don't need to show ID and can just fill out the federal form. When and where Arizona provides the state voter-registration form, it must also provide the federal version.

Silver goes even further to ensure compliance by Arizona. Every time a person registers with the federal form without showing proof of citizenship or other ID, Arizona must "create a record" that lets the state and the would-be voter know the registration was successful, and that the person is eligible to vote.

Arizona can't fool around with this one.

But if the Election Assistance Commission changes the state-specific federal form and allows the ID provision, Silver writes in her order, she'll "revisit" her order.

The order apparently still allows Arizona to require proof of citizenship and ID for registration of voters for state and local elections. However, as every voter knows, the local, state and federal ballot election questions are usually all on the same form. The state could separate them out, requiring special, federal-only ballots and even polling places. But that would be expensive.

Unless Horne and Bennett's lawsuit is successful, this appears to be the last nail in the pine box for 2004's Proposition 200.

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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.