Melissa Harris-Perry, 3/16/13, 12:26 PM ET

Supreme Court will hear 2nd voting rights case of the year

Arguments in Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona will soon be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court. Social commentator Nancy Giles and the Mexican...
Arguments in Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona will soon be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court. Social commentator Nancy Giles and the Mexican...

Will voters need to bring birth certificates to the polls?

Updated

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Monday in the second voting rights case to come before them this year. At stake in Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. is whether or not the state of Arizona can impose requirements for proof of citizenship when people are registering to vote in federal elections.

Arizona passed Proposition 200 nine years ago, requiring proof of citizenship when registering to vote. Challengers to Proposition 200 say it violates the National Voter Registration Act, signed into law in 1993 to streamline the process of registering to vote. Federal law does not require proof of citizenship. When individuals sign the voter registration form to attest that they’re citizens, they do so under penalty of perjury.

Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund litigator Nina Perales, who served as counsel in the original Arizona case, joined Saturday’s panel on Melissa Harris-Perry ahead of Monday’s oral arguments. “Twenty years ago, Congress looked around the country and saw that people were not participating in federal elections. They weren’t registered to vote. And it was largely because of a very confusing patchwork of state laws… and Congress decided to safeguard the integrity of federal elections by making sure in addition to whatever states did, they had to do some additional streamlined registration procedures.”

Attorney Patricia Millet, arguing before the Supreme Court on Monday, noted that the district court found that 31,550 people were rejected from voting due to Arizona’s Proposition 200.

If proof of citizenship or photo-ID requirements are added to the equation, many citizens will be unable to vote. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, studies show that as many as 11% of eligible voters do not have government-issued photo-ID. Per the report, “that percentage is even higher for seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income voters, and students.” This is because “many citizens find it hard to get government photo IDs, because the underlying documentation like birth certificates (the ID one needs to get ID) is often difficult or expensive to come by.”

Arizona is not the only state trying to add requirements to the registration or voting process. Last week, North Carolina held public hearings on a possible voter-ID bill. While Governor Bev Perdue vetoed a voter-ID bill in 2011, she was replaced by a Republican governor who is working with a Republican majority in North Carolina’s State House and Senate. Voter fraud has not been a major problem in North Carolina; according to the state’s board of elections only .000025 percent of the voting population committed it in 2012.

Arkansas is already ahead of the game in getting a voter-ID law passed. Last week the state House approved a voting ID measure 51-44. The bill is now with the State Senate, which already approved an earlier voter ID measure. The state senate delayed its vote on Monday. The Senate’s rules committee met Wednesday to determine whether the bill needs a two-thirds majority to be approved.

All these separate laws are linked in that they create additional barriers to the registration and voting process. While the Arizona case is now in the hands of the nine justices, Perales is confident the Supreme Court will rule in favor of the respondents because “we don’t think the Supreme Court is going to buy this election fraud fiction that Arizona’s putting forward.”

Perales warned of a dire precedent if the court rules in favor of Arizona. “There is no end to the type of paperwork states could layer on if the Supreme Court decides that Congress’ enactment, the National Voter Registration Act, has to yield to the states.”

Will voters need to bring birth certificates to the polls?

Updated