Supreme Court Affirms Federal Protections Against Unnecessary Barriers to Voter Registration

Release Date: 
June 17, 2013

NEW YORK -- Today, the Supreme Court released its decision in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (No. 12-71), striking down an Arizona law that created unnecessary barriers to voter registration in violation of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Demos served as co-counsel to a group of community voter registration organizations, including Rock the Vote, the NAACP, Voto Latino, and others, who filed an amicus brief in the case urging the Court to strike down Arizona’s unnecessarily restrictive law.

READ: What Today's SCOTUS Ruling In Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona Means for Voting Rights

In response to today’s decision, Brenda Wright, Vice President for Legal Strategies at Demos, released the following statement:

“Voter registration drives are quintessentially American—critical for engaging citizens in our democracy and closing the voting gap between rich and poor, old and young, and whites and communities of color.  Today’s decision strikes down an Arizona law that would have made community voter registration drives expensive and impractical. 

“Arizona’s Prop. 200 prevented many eligible citizens from registering to vote unless they were carrying with them specific documents, even when applicants attested to their citizenship under oath.  Today’s decision respects Congress’s understanding that most citizens don’t walk around with their birth certificates in their pockets, and even the most dedicated volunteer isn’t going to drag around a photocopier.”

“The Court’s 7-2 ruling holds that Arizona’s law cannot stand because it directly conflicts with the federal National Voter Registration Act, which streamlines the registration process and prohibits unnecessary obstacles to voter registration.  This is an important victory, as a contrary decision would have greatly undermined the effectiveness of the NVRA.

 “The Court’s decision blocking the Arizona law is particularly important because of the real-world negative impact of Arizona’s extreme documentation requirements.  Community voter registration drives have helped register millions of new eligible voters—including often marginalized low-income individuals, youth and people of color—proving to be an indispensable tool for ensuring that all Americans have an equal opportunity and an equal voice in the policies that affect their lives.  But as Demos’ amicus brief explained, many eligible citizens do not possess the narrow forms of documentation required by the law and, of those who do, many do not carry such documents with them.  In attempting to limit, rather than expand community registration efforts, Arizona’s Prop. 200 effectively suppressed the vote of these underrepresented communities, in direct conflict with the language and purpose of the NVRA. 

“It is particularly fitting that this important decision affirming the protections offered by the NVRA comes almost exactly 20 years after the NVRA was signed into law.  As noted in a recent Demos report on the impact of the NVRA:

Recognizing that the voter registration process remained a major obstacle to voting, Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) in 1993 in a deliberate attempt to increase voter participation. Fundamentally, the NVRA was designed to streamline and facilitate the process of voter registration and provide uniform registration procedures for federal elections in order to end many of the confusing, and often obstructive, laws affecting voter registration across states and localities. In particular, the NVRA set the first ever national standards for mail-in voter registration, required states to provide registration at public agencies, outlawed the purging of voters solely for non-voting, and established the nation’s first federal standards for voter list maintenance and the first national voter registration application.

Since its adoption twenty years ago, the NVRA has successfully registered millions of eligible voters and led to important increases in voter registration among lower-income Americans.

“While today’s decision protects the ability of community voter registration groups to help eligible Arizona citizens register to vote, we still have a lot of work to do to ensure the right to vote remains free, fair, and accessible to all. We must remain vigilant to root out efforts that would prevent eligible Americans from voting.  Other states should take heed of today’s decision and reject the kinds of efforts to suppress voting that have been proposed all too frequently across the country in recent years.”  

The amicus brief prepared by Demos, along with pro bono counsel O’Melveny & Myers, was filed on behalf of community voter registration organizations Rock the Vote, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (“NAACP”), Border Action Network, Fair Share Alliance and Fair Share Alliance Education Fund, Mi Familia Vota, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Nonprofit VOTE, People for the American Way Foundation, Promise Arizona and Promise Arizona in Action, Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition, Virginia New Majority, and Voto Latino. 

Demos is a national public policy organization working for an America where we all have an equal say and an equal chance. This is a part of Demos’ ongoing efforts to expand and protect the freedom to vote for every eligible American, including under the National Voter Registration Act and holding government accountable for lowering barriers to voting.

Experts Available:

Brenda Wright, VP of Legal Strategies 

Lisa Danetz, Senior Counsel 

Adam Lioz, Counsel

Media Contact:

Lauren Strayer

212-389-1413

lstrayer@demos.org