By a 7-2 margin on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider the case Kobach v. U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which would have required voters to show proof of citizenship to vote in federal elections. The court’s decision upholds a federal appeals court ruling and affirms the right of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to reject unnecessary and burdensome requirements that make it more difficult for people to vote.
The EAC has maintained that requiring prospective voters to swear they are U.S. citizens under penalty of perjury is a sufficient safeguard to preserving the integrity of elections. The commission contends that requiring excessive documentation of citizenship erects unnecessary logistical hurdles to voting.
Arizona and Kansas are still allowed to demand proof of citizenship on state election forms, but the court’s decision makes it possible for voters to still fill out a federal form to vote in Presidential and Congressional elections without first having to provide documentation of their citizenship status. Those voters are still required to be U.S. citizens and they must sign an affidavit swearing they are citizens.
The League of Women Voters and other non-partisan voting rights groups had urged the Supreme Court to reject the claims of Arizona and Kansas. They argued that requiring voters to supply a birth certificate or a passport has the effect of disenfranchising college students, the poor, the elderly, and others who might not have ready access to such documentation. In effect, such laws reduce voter turnout.
Republicans seeking to win elections by suppressing turnout expressed disappointment with the court’s decision. Although neither state has been able to demonstrate that non-citizens are falsely signing affidavits and voting illegally in large numbers, Republicans continue to try to frame the issue as one of voter fraud rather than voter suppression.
The Arizona and Kansas plans are essentially solutions without a problem. Though their is no credible evidence that a significant number of non-citizens are voting illegally in either state, both red states chose to add extra requirements for voting, in order to reduce turnout and thereby maximize the GOP’s advantage.
Keeping non-citizens from voting as the law requires, is something that needs to be enforced. However, there is no reason that the efforts to achieve that goal should also involve disenfranchising a number of citizens who do not have easy access to birth certificates or passports. Seven of the nine members of the Supreme Court agreed, perhaps recognizing that the GOP’s efforts are more designed to disenfranchise legal citizens than they are aimed at keeping non-citizens from voting.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.