On March 18, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on whether Arizona’s incessant drive to suppress its Latino population can make it impossible for newly naturalized citizens to register to vote by mail. The case is Arizona v. The Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. and it represents Arizona’s attempt to thwart the will of Congress when it established national norms for voter registration in federal elections with the National Voter Registration Act of 1995. The NVRA established for the first time in history a government obligation to register voters by requiring agency-based registration. While simplified to its common name, the Motor Voter law because it includes motor vehicle agencies, the NVRA is unique in that it also requires the government to affirmatively register low-income voters who apply for traditional welfare, food stamp and Medicaid benefits. In New York the state law implementing the NVRA also includes unemployment insurance agencies, for example. Finally, it completely changed the landscape on street voter registration by requiring all states to accept mail-in voter registration forms for federal elections, which in turn, was applied to registration for all elections. This also was a significant reform in states that previously required street registration campaigns to be attended by official state registrars, and on limited hours.
The case before the Supreme Court this week goes beyond the intricacies of voter registration in many ways. Arizona’s clear and repeated attempts to suppress Latino communities is evident in this case when it included limitations on mail-in voter registration for newly naturalized citizens as part of its notorious anti-immigrant (read: anti-Latino) law, SB1070.
Contrary to the streamlined federal requirements of the NVRA, Arizona now requires newly naturalized citizens (the far bulk of them in Arizona, Latino) to attach documentation of “proof of citizenship” to their registration forms, including in some counties copies of their naturalization papers. Put aside that it’s a federal crime to photocopy your naturalization papers, the law in Arizona engendered much confusion, again, I submit, by design. And its aim was clear: Arizona has effectively removed mail-in voter registration for newly naturalized citizens, and in doing so, removes a weapon Latinos have to vote out those representatives who passed SB1070 in the first place.