United Church of Christ activists of voter rights and racial justice were encouraged by a Supreme Court decision on Monday, June 17, that strikes down part of an Arizona law which unfairly affected legal immigrants and communities of color with an additional step in voter registration.
The Arizona law required additional paperwork for proof of citizenship, creating another layer to what federal law already requires through the Motor Voter Act. The court ruled by a 7-2 vote that the law known as Proposition 200 tangled with federal legislation that was intended to make voter registration easier.
"This is a much-needed step in the right direction to protect voting rights, given the unprecedented rollbacks of voting rights seen over the last two to three years in the form of restrictive state voter identification laws and restrictions on early voting, as well as increasing levels of voter intimidation and suppression," said Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC’s office in Washington, D.C.
Proposition 200 was approved by the state’s voters in 2004. Arizona claimed it was a necessary step to prevent voter fraud and restrict undocumented immigrants or anyone else ineligible from obtaining a ballot.
"Supporters of the law have argued that the additional paperwork is necessary to protect against voter fraud, but haven’t proved that voter fraud is in fact a problem," Sorensen said. "The law is simply an unnecessary, burdensome requirement that adds another barrier to voter registration. Given that voting is the foundation of the democratic process, we should be working to empower voter participation and protections — not adding barriers to this basic, critical form of civic engagement."
This was the first of two voter rights cases rulings from the Court this summer; The other challenges Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that permits federal oversight of states and cities that have a history of voter discrimination. UCC advocates believe overturning Section 5 would weaken voting rights for minorities, while counties in Alabama and North Carolina challenging the law claim it is unnecessary and creates a large burden.
"The UCC General Synod has long supported voting rights and addressing obstacles to participation in the electoral process within the broader context of the civil rights struggle," Sorensen said. "The General Synod witness around voting rights is grounded in the understanding that justice cannot be achieved unless the rules governing the democratic process are fair to all."
Through the Our Faith, Our Vote Campaign, the UCC has encouraged voter participation from its members, and opposes additional restrictions on voter registration and the voting process while advocating for fair and accessible elections.