Court Rules Arizona Can’t Demand Proof of Citizenship for Voter Registration

October 26, 2010 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

The state of Arizona cannot require documents proving citizenship for new voter registration, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today. The court ruled that a 2004 law created by Proposition 200 that made voters show a birth certificate, driver’s license or passport before registering to vote violated federal law. The National Voter Registration Act allows voters to register without documentation, but designates lying about citizenship as perjury. Election experts say non-citizen voting is infrequent enough that it has no effect on election results.

Non-citizens who attempt to vote can — and often do — face deportation, which opponents of the Arizona law argued is enough to deter fraud. “The penalties against non-citizens registering to vote are very serious and have served Arizonans — and all Americans — well for decades,” Linda Brown of the Arizona Advocacy Network, a plaintiff in the case, said in a press release. The court seemed to take this view by ruling the federal law does not allow states to require would-be voters to prove citizenship. But in other states, politicians are still proposing legislation that would crack down on voting by non-citizens.

Kris Kobach, who is running for Kansas secretary of state and helped draft Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration law, has said he wants to require proof of citizenship at polling stations, claiming “the illegal registration of alien voters has become pervasive.” Kobach won support for this idea from likely governor Sam Brownback, who is currently serving as a Republican senator.

Colorado Republican state Rep. Ted Harvey told TWI he plans to introduce a bill requiring documentation for voter registration in the form of a birth certificate or passport.

In Arizona, challengers to the 2004 law said in a press release that the law had prevented citizens who did not have documentation of their citizenship from voting. “We are elated that the Ninth Circuit has properly applied federal election law and struck down the documentary proof of citizenship requirement,” said Jon Greenbaum of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, who argued the case for appellants. “This will enable the many poor people in Arizona who lack driver’s licenses and birth certificates to register to vote.”