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Separate but Equal: Arizona and Kansas Implement Two-Tiered Voting System

J. Mijin Cha

Talk about your sore losers. After the Supreme Court struck down its attempt to make voter registration harder, Arizona is now attempting to implement a two-tier voting system that would require proof of citizenship in order to vote in state and local elections. Eligible voters who do not show proof of citizenship would only be allowed to vote in federal elections and not in state and local elections. In practice, one set of voters would get a federal only ballot and another set of voters would get a federal, state, and local ballot. Essentially, it is a version of “separate but equal.” Kansas is also attempting to implement this separate but equal voting system.

Arizona’s move is an attempt to circumvent the Supreme Court ruling that said the state could not require a separate proof of citizenship for voter registration because, as the Court pointed out, voters must already attest that they are citizens when they register to vote. Arizona wanted to force eligible voters to provide additional documentary evidence of their citizenship, in addition to what was already required.

While this may seem sensible, remember proof of citizenship is through birth certificates or passports. How many of us know where our birth certificates are, let alone able to produce them easily? And, only 4.1 percent of Americans have passports. If Arizona is successful, millions of eligible voters could be disenfranchised.

Plus, there is no need for Arizona’s additional barrier for voter registration. The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) already requires that voters attest, under penalty of law, that they are U.S. citizens. Under the NVRA, states must accept a uniform federal voter registration application, which has helped streamline the voter registration process and provide a uniform standard across the country. Again, this registration form already requires registering voters to attest that they are citizens. Adding additional requirements on top of that only works to create unnecessary barriers to registration.

Not surprisingly, these requirements disproportionately impact communities of color and young voters because they impede community voter registration drives and require a burdensome proof of identity. How do you have community voter registration drives where people must carry around a photocopy machine to generate a copy of a birth certificate or passport?

Arizona and Kansas are also suing the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to require federal voter registration forms issued in their states to include state-specific proof of citizenship requirements. By the way, these requirements have already resulted in 18,000 Kansans having their voter registration forms rejected.

Kansas Republican Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, seemed to brag when he said the case was “the first of its kind.” Personally, I'm not sure it’s worth bragging about being a trailblazer for voter suppression.

This latest attempt at voter suppression is another example of officials trying to change the rules to make it harder for people to vote for their own personal advantage. Arizona’s Republican Secretary of State, Ken Bennett, spearheaded this latest two-tier system and is also, by the way, running for governor next year. Isn’t it convenient that the two-tiered system would disproportionately impact populations that may skew liberal?