The only good news about U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren’s voter registration decision is that it will likely end the possibility of Kansas having a two-tiered election, in which not all voters would be able to cast ballots for state and local offices.
Other than that, there is nothing to like about a ruling that, for the moment, allows overzealous politicians in Kansas and Arizona to make voter registration harder for young people, minorities and senior citizens.
Melgren ruled that the Federal Election Assistance Commission was wrong when it denied a request from the two states to amend a national voter registration form to require proof-of-citizenship documents.
The national form, which would-be voters can use at motor vehicle offices, requires only that voters sign an affidavit under penalty of perjury that they are lawful U.S. citizens. But laws passed in Kansas and Arizona seek proof of citizenship, such as a passport or birth certificate.
The discrepancy has created considerable confusion in Kansas, as voters who have registered at motor vehicle offices without producing citizenship documents have been placed in “suspended” status. Secretary of State Kris Kobach had raised the possibility of allowing those voters to cast ballot in federal races, but not for state and local offices.
“Kansas has paved the way for all states to enact proof-of-citizenship requirements,” an exultant Kobach said after the ruling was announced.
That’s hardly a great distinction for a state which historically has prided itself on fairness and opportunity.
Melgren’s contention that the federal government shouldn’t interfere with state voting requirements is ominous. Republican legislators in many states support measures making it harder to register and vote, although they have produced little evidence that people who aren’t U.S. citizens actually attempt to cast ballots, or that people vote under false identities. The judge’s ruling may encourage legislatures to impose even more barriers.
There’s always a chance that Melgren’s ruling will not stand on appeal. But for now, Kobach and others who wish to make restrict voting have won a significant victory.