Right wing media hailed a federal court decision allowing Arizona and Kansas to enforce strict proof of citizenship laws for voter registration, a change that will disproportionately effect young, minority, and elderly voters, suppress voter turnout, and impose significant time and financial burdens.
On Wednesday, a Kansas federal judge ruled that it was unlawful for the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to deny states' ability to enact state-specific voter registration requirements. The Washington Post reported that now “both states require new voters to provide birth certificates, passports or other documentation to prove their U.S. citizenship to election officials.” This is a secondary form of verification, in addition to the attestation of citizenship already required.
Breitbart portrayed the ruling as a “big win for Arizona and Kansas on election integrity,” while The Washington Times described the ruling as a "boost for states' rights." Radio host Laura Ingraham hosted Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has been instrumental in drafting anti-immigrant legislation and brought this case, as a guest to defend the ruling as maintaining “the integrity of the voting process,” and hype accounts of voter fraud:
But these voting laws have historically denied thousands of people access to the ballots. When Kansas first enacted rules that voters must provide proof of citizenship in 2013,14,000 registrations were held in suspense by the state. When a now-defunct proof of citizenship law in 2004 first passed in Arizona, 31,000 voters were denied registration, 90 percent of whom were American-born citizens.
Though proof of citizenship laws effect all voters, they disproportionately effecy minorities. The Advancement Project noted that proof of citizenship laws “impose significant time and financial burdens,” and disproportionately effect minority groups such as Latino citizens and newly naturalized citizens. The New York Times reported that “studies have shown that the poor and minorities often lack passports and access to birth certificates needed to register under the laws in question.”
The idea that the ruling is in response to rampant voter fraud is false. As past voter purges aimed at the threat of non-citizen voting have demonstrated, the alleged problem is wildly exaggerated. Just this past December, the Republican Secretary of State for Ohio revealed that after investigating unfounded conspiracy claims, only 17 non-citizen (not undocumented) votes out of 5.63 million were discovered, leading him to admit the problem was “rare.” The American Immigration Council has explained that the warnings of a serious problem for election integrity due to non-citizen voting have been overhyped elsewhere:
There is no evidence that significant numbers of noncitizens are registering to vote. Nevertheless, in recent months several states have asked the federal government for access to immigration data in order to determine whether non-citizens are on the voter registration rolls.
The Associated Press reported in September 2012 that efforts by state election officials in Colorado and Florida to turn up cases of noncitizens illegally registered to vote have yielded very few results. In Colorado, an initial list of 11,805 suspected noncitizens on the voter rolls has shrunk to 141, which amounts to .004 percent of the state's 3.5 million voters. Likewise, in Florida, a list of 180,000 suspected noncitizens on the rolls has shrunk to 207, which accounts for .001 percent of the state's 11.4 million registered voters. It turns out that some of the individuals in question did not even know they were registered to vote, or were actually U.S. citizens legally entitled to vote.
The New York Times notes that, in 2011, “New Mexico's wasteful investigation of 64,000 'suspicious' voter registrations found only 19 cases of voters who may have been noncitizens.”
Photo via Michael Flesher at http://www.flickr.com/photos/fleshmanpix/6732137133/