On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 against Arizona’s law requiring documentation of citizenship for federal elections. As Wisconsin faces its own battle over voter rights it is important to understand the precedent set.
The Arizona law was ruled unconstitutional because it violated the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. States are prohibited from requiring additional documentation to prove citizenship that go beyond the federal registration standard. Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion, emphasized that state laws must follow federal statutes.
Unfortunately, Monday’s decision does not put the problem of voter suppression to rest. The Court stated that Arizona is allowed to go to federal officials to obtain permission to use proof of citizenship for federal elections. If the state is denied, it then can argue in court that there is a constitutional right to have a proof of citizenship requirement. By this standard, there is still a legal way for states to impose restrictions and unnecessary burdens on voters. Justice Scalia outlined this path that would make it possible for states to implement discriminatory voter identification laws.
Like in Arizona, where many members of Native American tribes were among those who did not have the necessary documentation, Wisconsin’s Voter ID Law requiring state-issued photo identification would disenfranchise specific groups, namely seniors, students, and minority voters. A 2005 study conducted by UW-Milwaukee found that:
- 78 percent of African American men age 18-24 and 66 percent of African American women age 18-24 did not have a valid driver’s license
- Ninety-three percent of college students living in Marquette University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee residence halls did not have driver’s license for those addresses
- An estimated 177,399 residents 65 and older were without a state photo ID
- Research by One Wisconsin Institute showed that the limited number of DMVs in Wisconsin, and the limited number of days and hours they are open, are not enough to justify the constitutionality of Wisconsin voter ID laws.
During a two-year period after the Arizona law passed voter registration dropped an astounding 44% in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located. The Supreme Court’s ruling reaffirms that marginalizing citizens only restricts voting and is unconstitutional.
Voting should not be a partisan issue. However, Republicans in Wisconsin and across the country have made it their mission to find different ways disenfranchise voters as a way to win more elections. Realizing they cannot change the minds of the voting electorate, Republicans have set out to change the rules so as to silence their opponents. The next test for voting rights will come when the Supreme Court issues a ruling on Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act; a section added to ensure states with histories of Jim Crow laws could not systematically and legislatively disenfranchise its citizens.
Wisconsin residents need to stay vocal about keeping the voting process open and inclusive to ensure that Republican politicians cannot manipulate the laws for personal benefit.