Court says Arizona can demand voter identification

Tue Apr 17, 2012 4:24pm EDT

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(Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday upheld Arizona's requirement that voters show identification at the polls, but struck down its requirement that they show proof of U.S. citizenship to register to vote in federal elections.

While agreeing that Arizona was within its rights to require identification at voting places, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit concluded the national Voting Rights Act, or NVRA, superseded the law's requirement that anyone registering to vote in a federal election show "satisfactory evidence" of U.S. citizenship.

In 2004 Arizona voters passed a ballot initiative, Proposition 200, that amended state election laws to add the citizenship and identification requirements. It was challenged in court shortly afterward.

The court's ruling comes after a growing number of states have enacted voter ID laws, prompting a divisive debate over whether proponents are seeking to limit access to the polls in a presidential election year.

The "photo identification requirement is not an invidious restriction" and does not violate the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause, the court's majority concluded in an opinion by Judge Sandra Ikuta.

But the court was not persuaded by Arizona's arguments in favor of Proposition 200's proof of citizenship requirement.

"In sum, the NVRA and Proposition 200's registration provision ... do not operate harmoniously as a single procedural scheme for the registration of voters for federal elections," Ikuta wrote. "Therefore, under Congress's expansive Elections Clause power, we must hold that the registration provision ... is preempted by the NVRA" when a voter seeks to register for a federal election.

The Ninth Circuit's ruling also comes just about a week before the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on another controversial Arizona law touching on citizenship issues, the state's first-in-the-nation effort to crack down on illegal immigration inside its own borders.

(Reporting By Dan Burns; Editing by Sandra Maler and Christopher Wilson)

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