From an editorial in Mondays Washington Post:
Compared with what some Americans have to tolerate on Election Day, registering to vote is relatively painless. Thats partly thanks to the National Voter Registration Act, a 1993 law at the root of a case the Supreme Court heard on Monday. The state of Arizona argues that it should be allowed to subvert the laws obvious purpose. The court shouldnt let it.
In 1993, Congress looked at the complicated maze of often confusing and sometimes discriminatory state election rules, and found that unfair registration laws and procedures can have a direct and damaging effect on voter participation in elections for federal office. So lawmakers established national standards. Americans could register to vote when getting drivers licenses, which gave the act its unofficial name: the motor voter law. Congress also required every state to accept a simple, common, mail-in registration form drafted by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. The record indicates that Congress meant these to be among the procedures that will increase the number of eligible citizens who register to vote in elections for federal office.
In 2004, Arizona voters approved a law requiring evidence of U.S. citizenship in order to register to vote. As a result, state elections officials no longer accepted standard federal registration forms unless accompanied by copies of passports, birth certificates or other proof of citizenship. Native American and Hispanic groups complained, and now the dispute is before the high court.
Arizona argues that federal law doesnt bar the state from adding to the registration requirements listed on the federal form. It points out that Congress acknowledged maintaining the integrity of federal elections as another important goal. Yet any reasonable reading of lawmakers intent concludes that they did not want to replace one confusing array of specific state requirements with another confusing array of specific state requirements. In fact, Congress rejected a provision that would have expressly permitted states to ask for evidence of citizenship during registration. The justices shouldnt have trouble siding against Arizona.
Non-citizens shouldnt be allowed to vote. But neither should citizens be discouraged from the exercise of their most essential right even citizens without ID deemed suitable by Arizona. States should be instituting reforms to expand access to the franchise, not narrow it. Universal voter registration, in which the states take responsibility to register all who are eligible, would be a good start.
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