Editorial: Supreme Court right to strike down unreasonable voter ID measures

Jun. 19, 2013 @ 11:23 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling on what states can demand in the way of voter ID is an important one, because it sets reasonable limits on the power of states to regulate federal actions. A number of states had added requirements to voting in federal elections — those for president and Congress — that went beyond what the actual forms to vote called for.

States may be able to set the parameters for their own elections, but they can't be meddling in federal elections. That's one reason poll taxes and other unreasonable and punitive measures adopted by southern election officials in the 1950s and 1960s were tossed out.

The Supreme Court ruling issued this week says states can’t demand proof of citizenship from people registering to vote in federal elections unless they get federal or court approval to do so. This may, to some, hurt the efforts to keep illegals from voting, but on balance the ruling is right and fair.

The justices’ 7-2 ruling keeps states from independently changing the requirements for those using the voter-registration form produced under the federal “motor voter” registration law. They would need permission from a federally created panel, the Election Assistance Commission, or a federal court ruling overturning the commission’s decision, to make tougher requirements stick, AP's account of the ruling says.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the court’s majority opinion, said federal law “precludes Arizona from requiring a federal form applicant to submit information beyond that required by the form itself.” He is as conservative as any member of the high court, so if he finds fault with what some states are doing, it must be wrong.

Under a law passed in 2004, Arizona required an Arizona driver’s license issued after 1996, a U.S. birth certificate, a passport or other similar document before the state would approve the federal registration application. It can no longer do that on its own authority. Less than 5 percent of people registering to vote in Arizona use the federal form, said Matt Roberts, a spokesman for Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett. The rest register through the state, meaning they will continue to be asked to provide proof of citizenship when signing up to vote.

But because of the court ruling, people can merely choose the federal form, which asks people to swear if they are citizens or not, but does not demand proof.

This is not over, of course. States that saw their laws struck down will take steps to try again. There should be a way to keep people who are not U.S. citizens from voting. Tom Caso, a professor at Chapman University School of Law in California and supporter of the Arizona law, said the decision “opened the door” to noncitizen voting. We need to stop that, certainly. But that process has to be reasonable, legal and applied to all.