Arizona and Kansas proved victorious in their voter citizenship suit and can require new voters to provide proof of their U.S. citizenship, and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission has been ordered to help them enforce the law, according to a federal judge. The U.S. District Court in Wichita, Kansas, ruled that the U.S. Election Assistance Commission could not deny requests from the two states to add the citizenship requirement. In the ruling, released Wednesday, the judge ordered the commission to revise the national voter registration form immediately by adding special instructions for Arizona and Kansas residents about their states’ proof-of-citizenship requirements.
The current federal voter registration form requires that prospective voters sign a statement declaring they are citizens, whereas the state voter registration forms for Kansas and Arizona require new voters to provide proof of voter ID such as a birth certificate, passport, or other documentation to prove U.S. citizenship. The different requirements introduced the possibility that residents of Arizona and Kansas would need to register twice–once with the state form and once with the federal form–in order to vote in both state and federal elections. Most voters in both states in question register with state forms. However, state officials contend the availability of the federal form created a loophole in enforcement of the proof-of-citizenship requirements. Kansas and Arizona asked the U.S. Election Assistance Commission for state-specific modifications on the national voter registration form, but their requests were denied. As a result, this inaction lead the states and their top elected officials to file suit against the agency in 2013.
The battle in which Arizona and Kansas proved victorious in their voter citizenship suit and can require new voters to provide proof of their U.S. citizenship also has political overtones. Republicans have generally supported the measure and argued in favor of tougher voting requirements on the grounds it can prevent voter fraud by halting duplicate voter registration and illegal citizens from voting. While Democrats generally oppose the state measure, which they contend can block or discourage voters from registering to vote, especially young and poor constituents who might not have the necessary identification to prove citizenship or cannot afford to obtain it. Moreover, critics contend the federal National Voter Registration Act, which was enacted in the 1990s, was meant to simplify registration across the country and allowed federal officials to reject a modification of the national voter registration form.
There is concern that if the judge’s ruling stands, it would erode Congress’ power to protect voting rights and lead other states to attempt the passage of similar voter registration requirements. The judge stated in his ruling that the U.S. Constitution gives states the power to set voter qualifications, and Congress has not preempted it, even by enacting the federal National Voter Registration Act.
Although Arizona and Kansas proved victorious in their voter citizenship suit and can require new voters to provide proof of their U.S. citizenship, the modifications are not necessarily set in stone. The decision can be appealed to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission and the national League of Women Voters were reviewing the ruling on Wednesday and considering their options. Arizona enacted its voter citizenship requirement by voter initiative in 2004, part of which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in 2013, which initiated the legal challenge. Additionally, other states such as Alabama, Georgia, and Kansas later followed with similar laws. However, Kansas’ voter citizenship rule did not take effect until 2013.
By Leigh Haugh