The United States Supreme Court last week struck down an Arizona law requiring proof of citizenship to vote, which effectively blocks part of a similar law in Georgia.
In a majority opinion handed down June 17 by Justice Antonin Scalia, the court struck down an Arizona state law requiring documented proof of citizenship on grounds the state-legislation is trumped by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which requires states to accept and use a federal form to register voters for federal elections.
Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan each sided with the majority. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito filed dissenting opinions. Justice Anthony Kennedy filed an opinion agreeing in part with the majority.
The 7-2 vote also has ramifications in Alabama, Kansas, Tennessee and other states with laws that require proof of citizenship.
Georgia’s law, which was passed in 2009, stipulates that proof of voter registration from another state does not constitute satisfactory evidence of citizenship for those registering to vote after Dec. 31, 2009, according to state Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler. Documents such as a birth certificate or passport, however, would be accepted.
Carter last week released an opinion piece addressing the Supreme Court’s ruling, saying the federal form that states are supposed to recognize under the law “requires only that an applicant check a box confirming they are U.S. citizens.”
Though Georgia’s law has been on the books for three years, Carter added that it never has been enforced because the state has not been given access to a federal immigration database that could confirm U.S. citizenship of those seeking to vote.
Carter said items omitted from the ruling also indicate where states stand.
“It didn’t say that non-citizens should be on voter rolls, and it didn’t say that a proof-of-citizenship requirement is an undue burden on citizens who want to register to vote,” he said.
Secretary of State press secretary Jared Thomas said Monday the court’s ruling does not require Georgia to cease any of its operations because the law never was implemented.
“We don’t have to stop doing anything now because we were never given access to the federal database,” Thomas said. “We’ll see where it goes from here.”
But Georgia Secretary of State Brian P. Kemp last week issued a statement in defense of the law.
“President Ronald Reagan said, ‘Trust, but verify,’” Kemp said. “This is exactly what Georgia’s voter-registration laws provide for. … I am very disappointed in the decision that the U.S. Supreme Court made today. I will work closely with Gov. (Nathan) Deal, the General Assembly and Attorney General (Sam) Olens to make sure that we continue to provide a safe, secure and legal system for voter registration as we move forward.”
During the 2012 election season, opposition to Georgia’s voter-registration law and ID requirements at the polls gained momentum. Conservatives have expressed that such laws prevent voter fraud, while liberals have argued that the laws are designed to suppress voters.
State Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, who voted against the bill, said he is glad to see the law struck down.
“The voter-ID law that we passed in Georgia and in some other areas is completely unnecessary,” he said. “We can’t find any, to speak of, real voter fraud in Georgia. It was just a political piece to give people a real warm and fuzzy feeling.”
Requiring the documentation addresses a problem that Williams sees as more perceived than real.
“We don’t have a voter-fraud problem in Liberty County, and we don’t need a fix for something that’s not broke,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a little silly, seeing these people who are working the polls, we’ve known all of our lives. My goodness, you’re trying to check my ID, I just saw you yesterday at church.”
Williams pointed out that increased requirements for voter registration and in-person voters came at the same time the state expanded opportunities for absentee voting.
“It’s definitely used as the suppression of potential voters,” he added. “The problem is, we passed the voter-ID law then expanded absentee voting, which leaves the door open for more fraud. ... I mean, absentee voting, you don’t even show up, you just send in your ballot.”
As for potential new legislation, Williams took a line contrary to other officials.
“I would support anything that makes it easier to vote, not harder. Everybody that wants to vote should vote,” Williams said. “We’ve got some of the lowest voter turnout in the free world.”