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June 18, 2013

Host: Ted Simons

Voter Registration Ruling

  • The United States Supreme Court ruled that part of an Arizona voter registration law violates the constitution. The court held that Arizona can require proof of citizenship when registering to vote using a state form, but cannot require the same proof when using a federal form. Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, the head of elections for Arizona, will discuss the impact of the ruling on voting.
  • Ken Bennett - Arizona Secretary of State
Category: Law   |   Keywords: law, ruling, law, voter,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday struck down part of an Arizona voter registration law. The Court held that Arizona can require proof of citizenship when registering to vote using a state form. But that same proof of citizenship is not required when using a federal form. Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, the head of elections for Arizona, is here to discuss the impact of the ruling. What are your thoughts on this ruling?

Ken Bennett: We were disappointed the Supreme Court did not rule directly that Arizona could do what we're trying to do. The more we've read the case, the more we realize they were outlining how to resolve the issue. Go over to the Federal Voting Commission and ask them for permission to outline the requirements that Arizonans said they wanted to have implemented, to the state-by-state instructions that come with the federal form. I think we eventually will get to where we wanted to be. But the Supreme Court decided they weren't going to grant that relief themselves, they said go over here. If they don't give you what you want, probably you can come on back. I think a lot of courts usually want you to exhaust your administrative remedies before coming to them and asking them to finally make an order.

Ted Simons: Before we get to those -- and there's another option I don't think you're quite as excited about, but we'll talk about that as well. Why should Arizona be involved in federal voting requirements?

Ken Bennett: The states get to decide what the requirements for becoming a voter in that state are. Every state in one form or another has adopted the voting requirements. In Arizona, citizens said back in 2004 that we want to verify citizenship when a voter registers to vote. You get to the polls, we want to show I.D. and things like that. The Constitution allows states to identify what the requirements of being an eligible voter are, age or whatever it might be, residency in the state, and in Arizona's case, proving citizenship.

Ted Simons: But the courts seem to say, that's unless the federal government says this is the way you register to vote.

Ken Bennett: Then the courts also say, yes, we allow the states to decide who gets to vote. But we have some say in how federal elections are run. If candidates for federal office are on a ballot, the federal government is going to weigh in in certain ways, to make sure those locations are conducted in accordance with what they believe are standard minimum requirements. And how you conduct the election, they don't want you to go beyond what their requirements are. Besides who gets to register to vote -- in fact, they said the power to establish voting requirements would be meaningless unless the states had the power to enforce those requirements. And therefore it would be unconstitutional. They said it would be unconstitutional for the federal government to tell Arizona ultimately that we can't have the ability to verify a person's citizenship, if that's the law of our state.

Ted Simons: But when it comes to federal elections again, kind of a different ballgame, with that in mind there's some thought out there that the state should go ahead and enact some kind of law in which if you want to register and use that federal form, go ahead. You can only vote in a federal election. Is that viable?

Ken Bennett: The counties, I've talked to them recently, that would set up a bifurcated set of registered elections. If you've registered this other way and haven't proven citizenship, you could only register and vote in the federal races. That would be a nightmare, I'm told by all of the 15 counties, in trying to keep this duplicated or bifurcated system of elections. So I don't think that's the way we want to go down. I think, as the court told us in the case, they said go down to the Federal Elections Assistance Commission, which has existed for 10 or so years, and ask them to put this requirement in their state-by-state instructions that they provide. And then once -- if they do, then we've got what we wanted. If they don't, then come back to us and ask if maybe we need to force them to do that.

Ted Simons: Didn't the state previously ask for this, and the commission voted 2-2, so nothing changed?

Ken Bennett: We asked back 2006 or 2007 in for this requirement to be put in after Prop 200 was passed. The commission had two Democrats on the commission at the time, two Republicans, they deadlocked 2-2. The Attorney General at the time, Mr. Goddard, chose not to appeal it. Essentially what the court said today, they don't think the commission can deny that. I've signed the letter as of today to send a re-application back to the EAC. Even though they don't have any commission --

Ted Simons: Who's on the commission? No one's been approved.

Ken Bennett: During the Obama administration there have been no commissioners appointed.

Ted Simons: I think the confirmation process is the problem there.

Ken Bennett: I don't think he's even nominated any commissioners to fill the seats on this commission. However, the State of Louisiana submitted an application similar to Arizonans. They had something in their voter registration process where they wanted additional information from the voter to be attached to the federal form. And that got approved just last year by the acting director of of this commission, even though there's no commissioners. If they have approved for Louisiana, requiring voters to provide additional information to comply with their laws, we think we have a good chance that they will do the same for Arizona.

Ted Simons: And again, Justice Scalia basically said, come on back and try again.

Ken Bennett: Yeah.

Ted Simons: Which is interesting. Last question here, kind of a different look at this. We will continue to look for ways to ensure only eligible citizens are casting ballots. I think that was a quote from you. Why is this necessary? How many incidents have we seen of noneligible citizens casting ballots?

Ken Bennett: Well, what we have seen is we have -- in comparing vote data with other states, we have found people voting twice in states, in the same election. They are voting in Arizona and another state at the same time. We have counties that receive hundreds of jury questionnaire forms every month from voters who say, I'm not a citizen of the United States, therefore I don't have to serve on a jury. But then they take them over to the voter registration database and they check the opposite box, yes, I was a citizen of the United States when I registered to vote. The incidence of illegals voting might be a few. But we don't want any. If we had any policy or procedure in Arizona that turned away one legitimate voter, people would go bananas, as they should. Any illegitimate vote cancels out a legitimate vote, so we want to make sure that everyone that votes is legitimate.

Ted Simons: Real quickly, the critics will say minorities, elderly, the students are often those who have to go an extra yard because of proof of citizenship and identification. You may be denying -- not necessarily, but de facto denying their participation.

Ken Bennett: That's why we have provisional ballots and all kinds of procedure. If you show up at the polls and want to vote, you get to cast a ballot. You have so many days to come back and show that you are who you are, and that you reside here as a citizen. Those are in place. We don't want illegitimate votes canceling them out, either.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here.

Ken Bennett: Thanks.