The Supreme Court opinion that held Arizona’s requirement for proof of citizenship in order to register to vote in federal elections is preempted by federal law will be a boost to Democratic efforts in the state and could lead to an increase in campaign spending.
This isn’t because it will encourage illegal immigrants to vote, as the anti-immigration nativists who pushed for the voter ID law have claimed—without credibility or evidence. It will help because anytime barriers to voting are removed it tends to have a positive impact on progressive electoral fortunes.
Young first-time voters, college students, the economically disadvantaged, naturalized citizens, ethnic minorities (Latinos and Native Americans in particular) are the most likely to lack the requisite forms of identification required under Arizona’s Proposition 200.
These subgroups also tend to skew highly Democratic. The more skeptical among us suspect that this fact might have been the motivation behind these more onerous hurdles in the first place. Now, if they choose, these potential voters can use the more simplified federal voter registration form to register, declaring under penalty of perjury that they are citizens with a simple X in a box. If they still lack the proper ID to vote in person at the polls, they can sign up for the Permanent Early Voter List (PEVL) and vote by mail.
This is important because when the lower court first struck down Arizona’s proof of citizenship requirement last summer there was still confusion on the part of county recorders as civic engagement groups started using the federal form.
Organizations like Mi Familia Vota and the Arizona Students Association, who were working on registering young first-time voters, found many of their federal registrations challenged and held up by county election officials. Eligible voters even got turned away at the polls.
The federal form accounts for just a small portion of Arizona’s registrations, less than 10 percent. But it's potentially a big deal because we are home to a surging Latino population that has been the victim of a decade of identity politics that has put them solidly in the Democratic corner. Arizona has 11 electoral votes. That’s a pretty big score—the most in the West in a state with a realistic chance to flip columns.
With one more barrier to progressive voter registration and outreach now removed, I predict you will see a big uptick of national investment in Arizona to flip it. 2014 is a stretch, but 2016 is doable.
One big caveat: there is a new omnibus election reform bill, HB 2305, now on the governor's desk. It was heavily opposed by Latino and other progressive civic engagement groups as a new effort at voter suppression. The highly controversial bill passed on party lines last week after intense pressure from national Republican leaders. Its provisions would purge voters off the PEVL if they haven’t voted in two consecutive federal elections (making them more difficult to canvass), and make it a crime for non-profit groups and parties to pick up early ballots from people at home.
If Gov. Jan Brewer (R) doesn’t veto HB 2305 it could be a temporary setback for the inevitable tectonic population shift gathering speed in Arizona. And it will likely prompt another set of legal challenges that won’t stop until, once again, the Supreme Court is forced to sort it all out.
Robbie Sherwood is Director of Arizona Operations for Strategies 360 and a former political reporter for The Arizona Republic. He also served as District Director for former Arizona Congressman Harry Mitchell.