Judge in Kansas orders federal agency to act on states’ request on voter laws

A U.S. District Court judge in Wichita has ordered a federal agency to act on a request by Kansas and Arizona to modify a national voter registration form to reflect the states’ proof-of-citizenship laws.

U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren said Friday that the U.S. Election Assistance Commission must make a decision by Jan. 17, saying the matter had been unreasonably delayed and could begin to interfere with Kansas’ election cycle.

Melgren also told a courtroom full of lawyers, who had been arguing the issue all morning, that he would retain jurisdiction over the case, anticipating that no matter what the federal commission decides, “someone in this room won’t like it.”

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett have sued the commission for refusing to add their states’ proof-of-citizenship requirements to the instruction sheets that accompany the federal voter form. The form is not widely distributed in Kansas but can be obtained from the Internet.

The states had asked for a preliminary injunction to force the commission to modify the form, but Melgren said he decided instead to allow the administrative process to be completed.

The U.S. Supreme Court last summer invalidated Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship requirements. Kobach wrote a similar law for Kansas that went into effect this year.

Kobach has said his law was sufficiently different from Arizona’s that it wouldn’t be affected by the Supreme Court decision.

But if he loses the court challenge, Kobach said he would be forced to implement a two-tiered system that would allow some voters to vote in all elections, while others could vote only for Congress and presidential tickets.

Kobach, who represented both Kansas and Arizona at Friday’s hearing, said such a system would be expensive and confusing, but he would have no choice but to use it if the state’s request to change the federal form isn’t granted.