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EDITORIAL: Motor-voter chaos

The Supreme Court’s balm for lazy voters

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The Supreme Court struck down an Arizona law Monday that required proof of U.S. citizenship when registering to vote while signing up for a driver's license. It made a dramatic headline and seems to strike down voter-identification requirements, but it's not much of a win for advocates of letting everyone vote early and often.

President Clinton started the controversy two decades ago with his push for motor voter to deepen the pool of Democratic voters, whom he assumed couldn't be bothered to go through the simple process of signing up at City Hall or the county courthouse. The legislation he signed requires every state to use the same registration paperwork and creates an Election Assistance Commission with the power to grant waivers for states that want to change their application form.

In 2004, Arizona voters said they wanted to take control of their elections again and enacted a law requiring proof of citizenship to register, not included in the federal requirements. Justice Antonin Scalia's majority opinion Monday told Arizona: Not so fast — the state can't ask for more information than requested by the federal form, but it can "deny registration based on information in their possession establishing the applicant's ineligibility."

Justice Scalia demonstrated his well-deserved reputation for sticking to the Constitution and the law. His opinion provides Arizona with a way to preserve the will of voters, explaining that "alternative means of enforcing its constitutional power to determine voting qualifications remains open to Arizona here." Specifically, Arizona should appeal the Election Assistance Commission's inaction on its waiver request. Officials should produce documentation of the need for proof of citizenship to impose on the board a "nondiscretionary duty to include Arizona's concrete evidence [of citizenship] requirement on the federal form." The administration must further appoint staff for the commission, which hasn't had any commissioners since 2011.

These narrow turns on technicalities in the law demonstrate the necessity for common sense: If someone already must prove citizenship for a variety of government programs and benefits, then proving it to register to vote is hardly a special burden. The only reasonable explanation for opposing such a demand is to dilute the citizenship requirement in favor of the alternative — allowing anyone with a pulse to vote. (The pulse requirement is optional in Chicago, where a death certificate will do.)

Despite what naysayers claim, voter fraud is real, and it's not limited to any group or class of people. Just last month, officials in Hamilton County, Ohio, indicted several prospective voters from Florida, Ohio and Tennessee for trying to register and obtain absentee ballots in Ohio. To prevent this in the future, states must have the freedom to enforce the requirement that only citizens can vote. Otherwise, ineligible voters will continue to dilute the ballot-box choice of legitimate voters. Restoring integrity to the electoral process ought to start with scrapping motor voter and returning oversight of registration to the states, where it belongs.

The Washington Times

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