In a 7-2 decision by Justice Antonin Scalia, the U.S. Supreme Court held today in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council that the National Voter Registration Act preempts an Arizona law that required local election officials to refuse to register any would-be voter who did not present satisfactory evidence of U.S. Citizenship.
In separate opinions, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.
The Constitution gives the states the authority to decide “the time, place and manner” of holding elections for federal officials, but also gives Congress back-up authority to “make or alter such regulations.” The Constitution also provides that when federal and state law clash, federal law will prevail.
The NVRA was passed in an effort to increase the number of eligible voters in federal elections, and to ensure that voter registration rolls are accurate and current. It spells out three methods for registering voters for federal elections. Voters may sign up to vote when they apply for a driver’s license, apply by mail using a federal form, or register – using the federal form – at sites designated under state law or by state voter registration officials. States must create a combined driver’s license (or non-driver ID) and voter registration form, and the law requires federal officials to draw up a federal form — a nationally uniform voter registration application to be used in getting registered by mail or at a registration office. On the federal form, the would-be voter must declare that he or she meets voter eligibility requirements, including U.S. citizenship.
Under Arizona law, the requirement of proof of citizenship was a separate mandate, not fulfilled by having the federal form.