Kansas and Arizona have rekindled a lawsuit seeking to force the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to require residents to show proof-of-citizenship when registering to vote, arguing that a recent agency decision to deny the requests was unlawful.
In a filing late Friday in a case with broad implications for voting rights, the two states asked U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren to order federal officials to include state-specific requirements in federal voter registration forms.
Kansas and Arizona require voters to provide a birth certificate, passport or other proof of U.S. citizenship when registering to vote. People who register using the federal form sign only a statement under oath that they are U.S. citizens.
The latest legal move was not unexpected. Melgren had previously scheduled a Feb. 11 hearing in the wake of a decision last month by the election commission that rejected the states’ requests, finding that stricter proof-of-citizenship rules hinder eligible citizens from voting in federal elections.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has championed proof-of-citizenship laws to keep non-citizens from voting, particularly those in the U.S. illegally. But critics say voter fraud is extremely rare and contend such laws suppress the vote and threaten to keep thousands of citizens from casting ballots.
In its decision, the EAC found that added documentation results in an overall decrease in registration of eligible citizens – undermining the core purpose of the National Voter Registration Act.
The agency said that given the “paucity of evidence” provided by the states regarding noncitizens registering to vote, the new voter registration requirements enacted by the states reflect “legislative policy preferences” and are not based on any demonstrated necessity. It also noted that stricter documentation requirements in Kansas and Arizona have led to significant reductions in organized voter registration programs.
But Kobach contends in the latest court filing that proof-of-citizenship is not any less of a legal requirement simply because the agency does not think it is necessary. He argued the EAC is legally required to include the Kansas and Arizona instructions on the federal voter registration form.
“The EAC’s determination to the contrary was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and not in accordance with law, and should therefore be set aside,” the states’ filing said.
Kobach also challenged the authority of EAC’s acting executive director, Alice Miller, to issue the decision because at the time the EAC had no commissioners. The commission was waiting for Congress to approve some presidential appointments.
The dispute stems from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that Arizona could not refuse to accept the national voter registration form, even though people who use it aren’t required to provide citizenship documents.
Kobach has said that if he cannot get a federal court to order EAC to modify the federal registration form to allow state-specific requirements, he would institute – on his own authority as Kansas secretary of state – a dual registration procedure that limits Kansans who register with the federal form to voting only in presidential, U.S. Senate and congressional races.