Federal Commission Must Help States With Proof Of Citizenship Voting Laws, Court Rules

CREDIT: AP Photo/John Milburn

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R)

Prospective voters in two states will soon have to show birth certificates, passports, naturalization documents, or other designated proof of citizenship documents when they apply to become registered voters. A federal judge decided Wednesday that the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) must help Kansas and Arizona enforce their proof of citizenship voting laws. The ruling may open the door to other proof of citizenship laws that impose another onerous obstacle to voting.

U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren ordered the EAC to immediately revise the national voter registration form so that both Kansas and Arizona can add state-specific instructions. Melgren’s opinion read in part, “the Constitution gives each state exclusive authority to determine the qualifications of voters for state and federal elections.”

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) said to the Associated Press, “This is a really big victory, not just for Kansas and Arizona but for all 50 states. Kansas has paved the way for all states to enact proof-of-citizenship requirements.”

In a purported effort to reduce voter fraud, Kobach helped to enact a state law, the Secure and Faire Elections Law of 2011, that required residents to provide proof of citizenship when they register to vote after Jan. 1, 2013. Up until that point, voters only had to sign a statement attesting that they are citizens.

But in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Arizona was barred from requiring proof of citizenship to vote in federal elections. At the time, “the court said states had to defer to a 1993 federal law requiring them to accept voter registrations turned in using the federal form.” However, Justice Antonin Scalia suggested states ask the EAC to include the citizenship requirement on the form for state election purposes, and even urged the state to sue the commission if they refused to act. Kansas and Arizona took Scalia’s advice and filed this lawsuit.

Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters said in a press release Wednesday that Melgren’s decision “is so broad that it would allow a state to implement almost any restriction on voter registration … It is a harsh decision that will hurt voters for no real reason.”

Kobach has claimed that “hundreds of illegitimate voters had been allowed to register from beyond the grave, from Somalia or without citizenship.” But his efforts have turned up almost no instances of non-citizen voting. Instead, Kobach’s witch hunt for alleged voter fraud has turned up false positives. In one instance, a surprised 78-year-old man was included on a list of dead voters because election officials did not document his date of birth. Meanwhile, about 15,000 Kansans had their voting rights suspended after the new law was imposed for failure to have the necessary documents, in part because of a computer system delay that has not yet sent citizenship information to election officials.

In Arizona, a newspaper analysis found that just .002 percent of the estimated 610,000 undocumented immigrants and legal non-citizens living in Arizona were even charged with voter fraud over the course of 8 years. And about 1,400 mostly Latino and Native American voters in Arizona are only able to vote in federal elections because they affirmed their citizenship on the federal registration form, but didn’t provide additional documents proving their citizenship, like birth certificates or naturalization documents for the state election form.

The EAC said it is weighing an appeal.