The Arizona voting-rights case now before the U.S. Supreme Court is more about states’ rights vs. federal control of elections than about the particulars of the case itself.
Yes, that sounds like a familiar, Arizona-centric issue.
From efforts to nullify federal laws to this current question of whether Arizona can pack additional requirements onto a federal voting-rights law, our state is highly prone to challenging federal dominion.
This time, the struggle is over Proposition 200, an initiative passed with about 55 percent of the vote in 2004 requiring people registering to vote to prove their U.S. citizenship, as well as requiring applicants for state and local welfare benefits to prove eligibility.
The federal National Voter Registration Act requires new registrants to attest that they are U.S. citizens, but not provide proof. The added requirement is at the heart of the fight: Can a state tack onto a federal law additional voter-registration requirements that the federal government does not?
It is important the issue be viewed in context. The signatures for the ballot initiative were gathered by border-security activists in 2004, at a time when illegal immigrants were flooding through the notorious Tucson sector of the U.S. border. The ballot measure was as much a response to those events as to any documented concerns about non-citizens illegally registering to vote. There was scant evidence of the latter, then or now.
The border is a much calmer place now. Net migration numbers are approaching zero. But the reverberations of those days continue.
Stigmatized Hispanic citizens have not forgotten the social chaos in their communities caused by Prop. 200. Subsequent elections — including the last presidential election — have reflected the perceived hostility toward them.
The relative balance of power between states like Arizona and the feds is an important issue, certainly. But in Arizona, the consequences of a punitive, reactionary and, ultimately, unnecessary law are more immediate. And harsh.
The Supreme Court should put an end to Prop. 200.
Last year, election officials investigating potential voting by non-citizens in key election states found miniscule numbers of offenders. In Florida, investigators found 207 illegally registered non-citizens — 0.001 percent of Florida’s 11.4 million voters.
That doesn’t mean the law is not “effective.” It simply is effective at the wrong things. At creating suspicion. At stigmatizing innocent citizens. At exacerbating political divides that will not prove advantageous for the mostly conservative promoters of Prop. 200.
Ballot integrity is a legitimate concern. But illegal immigrants registering to vote in sweeping numbers is not. Upon such fantasies are bad laws created. And Prop. 200 is bad state law, indeed.