Friday, June 21, 2013

Court unshackles voters

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the default position in this country is that citizens get to vote and that voting officials will begin with the assumption that those who wish to vote are citizens.
    In the case of Arizona vs. Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, the court ruled that a federal law, known as the Motor Voter Act, takes precedence over a recently passed Arizona law that would have required residents not only to prove their identity, but also their citizenship status.
    In issuing its decision, the court said states must “accept and use” a federal voter registration form and cannot pile on additional requirements.
    More surprising than the ruling was the 7-2 majority that issued it.
     The current court, over which Chief Justice John Roberts presides, has decided more opinions by a single vote than any court in history. This time, however, dependably conservative Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia and swing-vote Justice Anthony Kennedy joined Chief Justice Roberts in siding with the liberals in ruling against the conservative-backed Arizona statute.
    Arizona is just one of the states that has moved aggressively in recent years to add restrictions to the right to register, a pre-cursor to voting. Arizona had denied voter registration to more than 31,500 applicants for failing to provide additional documentation. In Maricopa County alone, where Phoenix is located, voter registration dropped by 44 percent.
    In Florida, Miami-Dade County’s Elections Supervisor’s office claims the state has identified nearly 2,000 potential non-citizens registered to vote.
    Taken together, one might assume massive numbers of unqualified people may vote—enough to change the outcome of an election. That’s the position from which state restrictions sprang, and it’s a long-cherished assumption in some quarters.
    Yet, none of the states have found any proof of massive voter fraud. In fact, the only case of voter fraud that resulted in an actual prosecution and conviction was of the Republican secretary of state of Indiana.
    The only real impact of Arizona’s law was to make minority voting as difficult as possible. Now even the high court that has been deeply divided has said loud and clear that voting must be free, fair, and accessible to all Americans.
    The decision is a resounding victory for our nation in which voting is the very foundation of democracy.

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