Politics

How One Federal Official Just Made It Easier for States to Restrict Ballot Access

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The leader of the federal agency that oversees elections has sided with Republican officials in Kansas, Georgia, and Alabama who have attempted to restrict ballot access by requesting proof of citizenship upon registering to vote.

Brian Newby, who directs the Election Assistance Commission, penned a letter to officials on Friday announcing new guidelines to instruct voters in these states to provide a proof of citizenship upon registering to vote. Newby’s decision is a victory for lawmakers who have been trying to pass and implement voter restrictions for some time now.

While this is not an official change in policy for the EAC, as Newby does not have that authority in his current role, the change in language is significant, and will have serious consequences in the upcoming election cycle. The EAC’s new proof of citizenship requirement change is seen as a total reversal for the agency, which has fought the adoption of these laws for years.

Proof-of-citizenship laws do little to further the integrity of the electoral process, and have disproportionate consequences on minorities and the poor. States already require voters to sign a statement confirming their citizenship under the penalty of perjury. Despite fearmongering about non-citizens trying to swing elections, it’s extremely rare for non-citizens to attempt voter fraud. In the few cases that have been discovered, the voter usually registered by accident or was unaware they could not vote.

Meanwhile, many legitimate voters, including immigrants, students, the elderly, and low-income individuals do not have easy access to the necessary documents to prove their citizenship.

One of the most notable champions for proof-of-citizenship laws receiving Brian Newby’s letter is Kris Kobach, who enjoys a friendship with the EAC official, reports MSNBC. Prior to this year, Newby served as the top election official for Johnson County, Kansas, and was re-appointed to his position by Kobach in 2014. As ThinkProgress has previously reported, Kobach, the Secretary of State of Kansas, has led his state’s crusade against non-citizen voting for years, causing bureaucratic chaos that kicked thousands of legitimate voters off the rolls. Immediately after the law went into effect, 12,000 people found themselves locked out of the political process because the computer system wasn’t able to evaluate their proof of citizenship.

Kobach further sought to purge 30,000 voters from the state rolls under the authority of this law. His attempt to require proof of citizenship with the federal form was shot down in court. Now, he is currently facing a legal challenge over his creation of a two-tier voting system that prevents those who registered with the federal form from voting in state elections.

Bryan Dewan is an intern at ThinkProgress.