“Voting Tiers” to Create Classes of Voters

Arizona and Kansas are creating two classes of voter: those with full access to all elections, and those who can only vote in national races.

Under this "tiered" system, voters who do not present proof of citizenship at registration will now be barred from voting in state and local races. Capitalizing on perceived loopholes in a June Supreme Court ruling that holds that states must accept and use the federal voter registration form, Arizona and Kansas are responding by restricting voters who meet only federal requirements to voting in only federal elections.

The federal form, which HeadCount uses for its nationwide voter registration efforts, requires a signature that legally affirms that the registrant is a US citizen. In Arizona and Kansas, voters must now provide actual documentation of this status when registering in order to gain full voting access. This legislation follows an interesting interpretation of the Supreme Court's decision in Arizona vs. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. The decision, which struck down an Arizona law that would require proof of citizenship at registration, seems to state that no criteria stricter than those required by the federal form can be imposed. Arizona and Kansas, however, interpret the ruling to apply narrowly to federal elections, leaving states to create their own rules for local- and state-level elections.

Requiring a passport or presentation of a birth certificate in order to have a say in local and state politics could create significant impediments to voting. The time and effort required to obtain documentation may have negative impacts on voter registration and turnout. Local- and state-level elections, which attract the fewest voters, will now allow even fewer. Even federal elections risk lower turnout in the wake of the voter confusion that may result. If, that is, the Department of Justice decides not to challenge Arizona and Kansas on the grounds that their policies are discriminatory, as it has not hesitated to do in Texas and North Carolina.