Arizona has racially polarized voting and discriminated against Latinos, but a voter identification law did not disenfranchise Hispanics, a Court of Appeals ruled.

A 12-member panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a law that required voters to show ID before casting their ballots, ruling it didn’t give Latinos less opportunity to vote.

The court, however, struck down a critical provision of the law, known as Proposition 200,  that required that voters to show proof of U.S. citizenship to register to vote in federal elections. The court ruled the federal National Voter Registration Act trumps that section of the Arizona law.  

MALDEF, a Latino civil rights organization, one of the organizations that challenged the 2004 law, hailed the decision.

“Today's ruling vindicates all the U.S. citizens who were improperly rejected for voter registration in Arizona," stated Nina Perales, Vice President of Litigation for MALDEF, which argued the case court.  "Arizona may no longer flaunt federal law in voter registration, particularly in a manner that discriminates against newly naturalized citizens."

That federal law allows voters to fill out a mail-in voter registration card and swear they are citizens under penalty of perjury, but it doesn't require them to show proof as Arizona's law does.

Arizona voters approved Proposition 200, a law that denied some government benefits to undocumented immigrants and required Arizonans to show identification before voting. The case before the appeals court challenged the law's voting provision and not the benefit denial provisions.

Critics say the law's voter identification requirement is an inconvenience and a barrier for minority voters, while supporters said the requirement serves as a safeguard for the election system by preventing non-citizens from casting ballots.

The ruling Tuesday upholds an October 2010 ruling by a smaller panel of the appeals court.

The decision by the larger panel of the court said Arizona's requirement that voters show IDs before casting a ballot wasn't a poll tax and doesn't violate equal protection rights within the Constitution.

Opponents of the law argued that at least 30,000 potential voters have been excluded from voting in Arizona because they failed to provide other documents required by the state, even though there was no evidence they weren't eligible to vote.

Lawyers for the state defended the voting rules by saying it wasn't unreasonable for the state to seek more documentation and that some non-citizens have been tricked into signing postcards by voter registration organizations that have sent people door-to-door.

They also said the proof of citizenship requirement was not burdensome because the vast majority of prospective voters only have to provide a number from a driver's license, tribal identification card or certificate of naturalization, not produce an actual document.

The U.S. Justice Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case urging the 9th Circuit to overturn the state law, saying the law is invalid because it conflicts with the National Voter Registration Act.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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