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Arizona Voter Registration Mandate Rejected by Appeals Court

A federal appeals court rejected a provision of Arizona law compelling voters to prove citizenship to register by mail while upholding a requirement that they must show identification at polling places.

The decision today, by an 11-judge panel of the San Francisco-based appeals court, strikes down a portion of Arizona’s Proposition 200, a 2004 voter-approved initiative, that applied to residents who use a mailed form to register to vote in federal elections.

“Today’s ruling vindicates all the U.S. citizens who were improperly rejected for voter registration in Arizona,” Nina Perales, a lawyer who argued the case for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a Latino civil rights organization, said in an e-mailed statement. “Arizona may no longer flaunt federal law in voter registration, particularly in a manner that discriminates against newly naturalized citizens.”

The provision, which requires county officials to reject any registration application that doesn’t also prove citizenship, conflicts with the intent of the National Voter Registration Act, a federal law aiming to increase voter registration, the appeals panel ruled.

Today’s decision upholds a ruling last year by a three-judge panel of the same court. Arizona officials sought reconsideration of the 2011 October decision.

ID Requirement

Today’s ruling also affirmed the previous panel’s ruling upholding a provision requiring voters to show identification at polls. The law was challenged by voting rights and Hispanic advocacy groups.

Arizona Governor Janice K. Brewer is “pleased that the court upheld Arizona’s ID at the polls requirement,” Matthew Benson, a spokesman for the Republican governor, said in a phone interview.

“Unfortunately, the court’s action today prevents the state of Arizona from evenly applying its proof of citizenship requirement for all individuals registering to vote,” Benson said. “This opens the door to potential participation in Arizona elections by non-citizens.”

The case is Gonzalez v. Arizona, 08-17115, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco).

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