Arizona’s election law requiring residents to show proof of citizenship conflicts with the National Voter Registration Act, a federal appeals court ruled in overturning portions of the measure.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco Tuesday invalidated parts of Arizona’s Proposition 200, a 2004 voter-approved initiative on registration for state and federal elections. The court didn’t disturb a requirement that voters show identification at the polls.
A three-judge panel of the court, in a 2-1 decision, said the proof-of-citizenship requirement conflicted with the intent of the federal law aiming to increase voter registration by streamlining the process with a single form and removing state-imposed obstacles to registration.
The federal law requires applicants to “attest to their citizenship under penalty of perjury” without requiring documentary proof, the panel said.
“Proposition 200 creates an additional state hurdle to registration,” the judges said.
Voting rights and Hispanic advocacy groups challenged the law.
The decision is “a warning to anyone who seeks to deter or prevent voter participation” that the Constitution “will protect our democratic process,” said Thomas A. Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a San Antonio-based group that argued the case.
Mika Marquart, a spokeswoman for the Arizona attorney general’s office, said the state will seek reconsideration of the ruling by a larger panel of judges. Because the voter registration period for next week’s election has passed, the ruling will have little or no practical effect on the Nov. 2 vote, Marquart said in an e-mailed statement.
The appeals court panel included former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor sitting as a retired justice. She was a state senator and judge in Arizona before being nominated by President Ronald Reagan to the high court, where she served from 1981 to 2006. O’Connor voted with the majority in yesterday’s decision.
The case is Gonzalez v. Arizona, 08-17094, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco).
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