June 24, 2013

Judicial Rulings May Affect Voting in AZ

State awaits Voting Rights Act decision, mulls registration ID change that came from US Supreme Court.

Arizona election officials are awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court decision expected this week on the Voting Rights Act to determine if state electoral issues will remain subject to federal review.

Arizona is one of nine states falling under what is known as "Section 5" of the federal law, requiring U.S. Justice Department review of any change affecting voters.

A change in the the law's interpretation by the court would affect Arizona, as did last week's ruling overturning the state's voter registration laws requiring proof of citizenship at the time a person registers to vote.

Congress extended Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act a few years ago, and it remains based on the voting activity in 1965, said Chris Roads, Pima County registrar of voters.

When asking for permission to make changes, states and jurisdictions must prove there is no discriminatory impact directly or indirectly on any group of people, he said.

For Arizona, Roads said there will be no changes if Section 5 is upheld. However, if it is found invalid, the state will no longer have to ask for permission to make any changes, including in submitting its redistricting maps for federal approval every 10 years.

In the registration case, the voter-approved Proposition 200 passed on 2004, putting restrictions on voting in Arizona, Roads said.

The justices' restriction was that people had to prove U.S. citizenship when they registered to vote, he said.

If the voter used a national voter registration form, which can be used in all 50 states, the Supreme Court ruled, federal law overrules state law, Roads said. The federal form requires a voter to swear he or she is a U.S. citizen, but does not require proof of citizenship.

However, at the time of registration, if people use only the state form, they must prove U.S. citizenship, Roads said.

When a person registers to vote, a form is entered into a system that correlates with the Motor Vehicle Department’s system, Roads said. The MVD tracks who in the system is in the country legally and sends an alert when someone is not a citizen. Since a non-citizen can get a driver's license if in Arizona legally, the system helps determine who is a U.S. citizen and who is not, Roads said.

If the system alerts that a person is not a citizen, then the recorder’s office asks the person to prove citizenship, Roads said.

Ashley Grove is a University of Arizona journalism student and an intern for Arizona Public Media.

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