Alabama says it plans to move ahead with a requirement for potential voters to show concrete proof of citizenship, in the first sign of a wider impact from a court decision on Wednesday ordering a federal elections agency to help Arizona and Kansas enforce their own such requirement. Alabama is one of the four states that have adopted the extra layer of proof for people registering to vote. With such rules under a legal cloud, it held off on carrying them out. Now that may change. The federal court decision “has given us the confidence that Alabama has strong footing for implementation of the rules regarding proof of citizenship,” Secretary of State Jim Bennett said in an email. The ruling, by a district court in Wichita, Kan., is all but certain to be appealed, parties in the case said, and is unlikely to be the last word in decades-old fights over who gets to make the rules for voting and what they may require.
On the one hand, the decision — if it withstands the likely appeals — has raised partisan flags. Liberals and civic groups fear it will complicate voter registration drives and lead more states to impose requirements that can discourage naturalized immigrants, the poor, minorities and younger voters from registering. Such voters tend to choose the Democratic Party.
Politics aside, the decision was a victory for the states in a turf battle over electoral rules. It is a legally murky area because the Constitution gives the federal government power over how elections are conducted for Congress and the presidency, but says the states can decide, within limits, who is eligible to vote.
“I think this decision shifts the balance of power from the federal government to the states on how to run federal elections,” said Richard L. Hasen, an expert on voting law at the University of California, Irvine. “This is one step in much larger battles, not only between Republicans and Democrats, but also between the federal government and the states.”