Arizona v. ITC Places Citizens’ Right to Vote, Independent Voter Registration Drives at Risk

Washington, D.C. (March 7, 2013) – Today, the League of Women Voters of the U.S. announced its submission of an amicus brief in the critical voting rights case, Arizona v. ITC, which will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, March 18.  The court is being asked to decide whether the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) prevents states from passing laws that restrict the voter registration process.

“This case puts independent voter registration drives like those conducted by the League squarely in the crosshairs of those that want to restrict access to political participation and voting,” said Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States.  “This is a dressed-up attack on the League and our community partners that are often the only effective means for some voters to get registered and participate in our great democracy.”

“As the grassroots organization that led the push for enactment of the NVRA in order to streamline the crazy-quilt of state laws that made citizen-led voter registration drives so difficult, we are deeply concerned that this case could reverse years of progress,” MacNamara said. “Restricting voter registration is just one way to limit the right to vote,” she said.    

The state of Arizona is looking to limit voter registration by mail by requiring every new registrant to provide documentary proof of citizenship, even though the NVRA bars states from adding such restrictions.  The streamlined mail registration form is an essential element for independent voter registration drives.  The federal Election Assistance Commission has repeatedly held that Arizona’s restrictions are not consistent with the NVRA. 

“States should not be allowed to play politics with the voter registration process, the key entry point for political participation in our democracy,” said Barbara Klein, president of the League of Women Voters of Arizona, which is a plaintiff in the case along with many other Arizona organizations.  “Congress acted to protect and enhance the right to vote when it passed the NVRA.  The U.S. Supreme Court should not step in over 20 years later and overturn Congress’ intention,” she said. 

“Approval from the U.S. Supreme Court for state restrictions on voter registration would undoubtedly put that issue in front of state legislatures. Already, several states have sought to restrict voter registration, and we can expect others to try if given the green light by our nation's highest court,” said MacNamara.

Arizona v. ITC is the second pivotal voting rights case in as many weeks to come before the U.S. Supreme Court.  On February 27, 2013, the court heard arguments in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, a case that will decide the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965, landmark legislation that outlaws racial discrimination in state voting practices.

“The importance of these two upcoming decisions simply can’t be overstated,” said MacNamara. “Without a strong VRA, voting rights are left without vital protections.  Dismantling the NVRA leaves the voter registration process vulnerable to political manipulation.  If states win and voters lose before the U.S. Supreme Court, we can expect to see additional states consider an even broader range of restrictions on voting and changes to electoral systems unparalleled since the days of Jim Crow,” concluded MacNamara.

Contact: Kelly Ceballos at kceballos@lwv.org