The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that Arizona's proof of citizenship requirement in order to vote is unconstitutional because it conflicts with the federal voter requirements.
The federal law, passed by Congress in 1993, asks a simple citizenship question. The Arizona law, made possible by a 2004 ballot initiative, required documented proof of American citizenship (though, according to the Supreme Court decision, the Arizona voter registration form won't change and will still have the proof of citizenship requirement. It just can't stop people from filling out the easier federal form instead).
The National Voter Registration Act made it simple to vote. Arizona's law made it more difficult.
Maybe it is too easy to vote. The irony of Monday's decision lies in how easy it is to vote in Arizona. I haven't had to go the polls in years because my ballot arrives in the mail prior to every election. I fill it out, drop it back in the mail without ever having to find my neighborhood polling location. I love the system. But, as easy as it is, it doesn't improve voter turnout.
In 2011, the City of Phoenix elected Mayor Greg Stanton. He received under 95,000 votes in a city with 1.5 million residents. Only 169,000 total people in Phoenix voted in that off-year election (off-year because it wasn't tied to national elections). Of that total, only 21,000 voted in person.
What I'm wondering is why the debates around voting often center around fraud when only a small portion of people bother to exercise what some regard as their most important right. Sure, non-citizens shouldn't vote, but many Americans don't even bother to vote even though it has never been easier.
During presidential elections, about 60 percent of registered Americans vote. In 2012, 57.5 percent of voters did. In 2008, over 62 percent voted. American voter turnout hasn't been higher than 65 percent since 1908, when it was 65.4 percent.
In national non-presidential Congressional elections, the percentages are even worse. They hover, on average, around 40 percent.
Election cycles are constant. Perhaps that is one reason for the low voter turnout. Maybe another reason is because the average voter doesn't think their vote makes a difference.
Polls suggest Congressional approval is at an all-time low. One from earlier this month puts it at 6 percent. Herein lies the fundamental issue with voting: There's a clear way to change who represents voters in Washington. But instead of voting for change many people just seem content to complain. Which, of course, Congressman like because, while people are complaining, they keep on winning re-election.
The Supreme Court's decision causes debate about who votes, even though not many Americans can be bothered. Voting debates instead should focus on why Americans don't vote in larger numbers and how to engage more people into caring about what goes on in this country.