A Terrible Idea to Create Two 'Tiers' of Voting in Local and National Elections
Back in June, the Supreme Court struck down a law in the state of Arizona that required residents to show proof of U.S. citizenship when filling out an otherwise simple federal registration form to vote. Critics viewed the law as an attempt to suppress voter registration. And the 7-2 Supreme Court ruling was hailed as a tentative victory against such efforts.
As we've mentioned before, though, there are an awful lot of ways to keep people from voting (or to "prevent voter fraud"). And history is full of strategies that have been struck down by courts, only to be replaced by newer ploys no one had even thought of before.
Which brings us back to Arizona, and the victory civil rights advocates thought they had won there. Arizona is now suggesting that the Supreme Court decision applies only to registration for federal elections. If the state wants to require proof of citizenship for state and local elections, Arizona officials figure, they can. As a result, Arizona and nearby Kansas are now talking about implementing an election system with two classes of voters: one eligible to vote in all elections, and the other only able to cast a ballot in federal contests.
This idea will have two obvious and unfortunate consequences: It will create mass confusion (TPM writes that Kansas is envisioning four different registration scenarios involving two different registration forms, with some people left ineligible to vote in any election). And by creating greater barriers to registration specifically in non-federal elections, the idea threatens to particularly impact elections for offices like mayor, city council, and state representative.
We already know that turnout in local elections tends to be dramatically lower than in national ones, with direct implications for who gets elected. If anything, we should be trying to find ways to boost local election turnout, not curtail it even further. History has also shown that the political representation of minorities in offices like city council has expanded over time right alongside protections for their voting rights.
Top image of a voter casting a ballot during the November, 2012 national election: Mark Leffingwell/Reuters.