Does Congress have authority to set voter qualifications for federal elections?

by - June 20, 2013

On the surface, the Court’s decision appears to vindicate federal authority by recognizing Congress’s broad power under the Elections Clause to regulate federal elections.  Pursuant to the Clause, states may choose the “Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives,” but this authority is subject to Congress’s power to “at any time make or alter such Regulations.”  According to the Court, Congress’s authority under the Elections Clause is not subject to the usual presumption against preemption, where the Court assumes that Congress does not intend to preempt state authority in enacting legislation absent explicit language to the contrary.  Rather, Congress’s authority to “make or alter” state legislation pursuant to the Elections Clause is, by definition, an intent to preempt.  Thus, Arizona’s additional requirement for voter registration must give way to the NVRA’s less onerous registration regime for federal elections.

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