Immigration Battle as State Leaders Seek Changes in Voter Registration Laws

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On Wednesday, state leaders in Kansas and Arizona joined together in a lawsuit to battle immigration, demanding changes from the federal government in regard to voter registration laws and requirements.

The lawsuit is demanding the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission to not only require a person declaration of citizenship of the part of voters, as the current law demands, but also proof of citizenship.

“A mere oath without concrete evidence of citizenship as allowed for by the current version of the Federal Form,” the lawsuit notes, “does not suffice to effectuate the State laws of Plaintiffs or enable Plaintiffs to obtain information Plaintiffs deem necessary to assess the eligibility of voter registration applicants and to enforce their voter qualifications.”

The lawsuit also includes an accusation that the Obama administration is actively working to prevent states from requiring proof of citizenship at the voting booth. Proof of citizenship as a requirement is generally used as a method to keep illegal immigrants from voting. An 2004 Arizona measure requiring this, however, was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court this June, as well as drawing criticism from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and other immigration-centered groups. The groups argue that such a requirement might disenfranchise many voters who, although legal, may not have all the proper paperwork at the ready. Those who support these type of voter ID laws, on the other hand, tend to argue that they are essential in preventing voter fraud.

Still, Kansas and Arizona are seeking changes in voter registration to ensure that voters are who they say they are. The current federal voting form merely demands a verbal affirmation from each voter than he or she is a citizen. The two states say they want more than that, fanning the flames of a longtime immigration battle.

Constitutionally speaking, there is one explicit statement in the 26th Amendment that forms the basis for a citizenship requirement in voters, that “the right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.” A handful of other amendments establish that voting cannot be denied on account of race, color, sex, a “previous condition of servitude,” or one’s failure to pay poll fees or taxes, although they do not necessarily mention citizenship. The question of what is precisely so unconstitutional about requiring a demonstration of citizenship, then, is puzzling for supporters of the lawsuit.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, one of those who enacted the lawsuit, has reportedly been interested in tackling immigration issues for quite some time. Before his current position in Kansas, Kobach worked as a lawyer, having a great deal of involvement in producing a draft to Arizona’s infamous 2010 immigration law. The measure became infamous for its strict approach toward undocumented immigrants, allowing Arizona law enforcement officials to ask for registration documents simply on the basis of reasonable suspicion.

Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, the other official bringing forward the suit, voted “Yea” on a number of immigration legislation and requirements while serving in the State Senate. One such bill, HB 2577, allowed peace officers to question detainees about their immigrant status, as well as stipulating that the U.S. Department of Education could only provide in-state tuition benefits to legal citizens and residents.

The joint lawsuit against the federal government between the two states is still underway, intensifying an already raging battle over how to deal with immigration. Filed in Topeka, Kansas, the lawsuit is just one of many efforts on the part of states to work in addressing cases of voter fraud. Kansas and Arizona are certainly seeking to set a precedent, hoping to change voter registration law standards.

Written By: Chris Bacavis

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