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Gonzales v. Arizona

AARP Attorneys Ask Full Ninth Circuit to Hold Fast to Ruling on Voter ID Law

AARP Foundation Litigation's brief opposes Arizona's bid to overturn a decision invalidating an Arizona voter ID law disproportionately affecting citizens who are older, disabled, low-income and minority.

Background

In 2004, Arizona voters approved the Arizona Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act ("Proposition 200"), an initiative whose stated intent was to discourage illegal immigration. Among its provisions, Prop 200 required individuals interested in becoming voters to submit documentary proof with their application, requiring types of identification that a significant minority of the electorate does not possess. Prop 200 also required documentary proof of a voter's identity whenever an individual moves from one Arizona county to another. And even after qualifying, on voting day, voters must bring specified forms of ID to the polls. People who vote early or absentee are not required to provide such identification.

The theory of Prop 200 is that restrictions on voter registration and in-person voting would prevent illegal voting by non-citizens, even though evidence of such fraud was minimal. Proponents could point to only at maximum 38 instances since 2004 in which non-citizens sought to vote. By contrast, thousands of lawfully registered or qualified Arizona citizens do not have the items required by the law to vote. In 2005, Prop 200 was challenged in court on the grounds of violating the Constitution, the Civil Rights Act and two federal voting laws.

Plaintiffs argue that the law imposed an especially difficult obstacle for citizens who are poor, older, physically disabled, residents of retirement and nursing homes, and geographically isolated, all of whom have problems accessing the documentary proof required or have historically low possession of these documents (such as driver's licenses and passports).

In October 2010 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that portions of Prop 200 violate federal election law. The court's lengthy opinion considered various federal laws including the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Because the court invalidated Prop 200 based on the federal NVRA, the court declined also to consider whether the law violated the federal Civil Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.

The State asked the full Court of Appeals to reconsider the 2-1 ruling of its panel, and the Ninth Circuit agreed. AARP and its allies now are urging the court to reaffirm the three-judge panel decision.

What's at Stake

AFL is working closely with AARP Arizona to ensure that all eligible voters can freely exercise their constitutional right to participate in the democratic process. AARP argues that Prop 200 imposes an undue burden on the right to vote, a "poll tax," applies different standards and procedures in determining whether individuals within the same county are qualified to vote (since absentee voters are treated differently), denies fully qualified voters the right to vote, and disproportionately affects Native American and Latino citizens of Arizona — all in violation of the Constitution.

Case Status

Gonzalez v. Arizona
is before the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

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