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Updated Jan 18, 2014 - 12:59 pm

Feds deny states’ bids to tighten voter registration

WICHITA, Kan. — The U.S. Election Assistance Commission found Friday that
heightened proof-of-citizenship requirements likely would hinder eligible
citizens from voting in federal elections, handing down a ruling that denied
requests from Kansas, Arizona and Georgia to modify the registration form for
their residents.

The decision came just hours before a court-imposed deadline in a lawsuit filed
in federal court by Kansas and Arizona that seeks to force the commission to
modify state-specific requirements for registering to vote in those states.
Georgia, which has a similar voter registration law, is not part of the
litigation but was included in the commission’s decision.

Those states have enacted laws requiring new 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 only need to sign a statement,
under penalty of perjury, that he or she is a U.S. citizen.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has championed his state’s
proof-of-citizenship law 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.

Kobach said in an email that he had anticipated the adverse ruling from the
commission and the states will now press their constitutional claims before the
U.S. District Court in Kansas. He argues the decision is unconstitutional
because it prevents Kansas and Arizona from securing their voter rolls.

“The EAC’s reasoning reflects the partisan view of the Obama Justice
Department that requiring voters to provide documentary proof of citizenship at
the time of registration is undesirable as a policy matter,” Kobach said.
“However, the EAC has no authority to second-guess the policy decisions of the
sovereign states of Kansas and Arizona.”

In its decision, the EAC found that added documentation burdens do not enhance
voter participation and result in an overall decrease in registration of
eligible citizens _ undermining the core purpose of the National Voter
Registration Act.

It cited as evidence the problems Kansas already has experienced with its own
enhanced voter registration requirements. The voter registrations of 20,127
Kansans remained on hold Friday because they’ve not yet provided proof of their
citizenship to election officials.

States already have other means available to enforce citizenship requirements
without requiring additional information from applicants, including access to
national databases of birth certificates and naturalization information, the
agency noted.

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, the agency said. It also said that the heightened
documentation requirements imposed by Kansas and Arizona have led to significant
reductions in organized voter registration programs.

“This is a significant decision for all eligible voters underscoring the
purpose of the National Voter Registration Act to remove barriers such as
documentary proof of citizenship that prevent eligible citizens from registering
to vote and voting,” Michelle Kanter Cohen, a lawyer representing Project Vote
in the states’ lawsuit in Kansas, said in an email Saturday.

“What we have seen where these laws have been implemented in Arizona and
Kansas is that tens of thousands of eligible Americans have been rejected or
suspended from the voter rolls, and community voter registration drives have
been significantly hampered,” Cohen said.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 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 with state-specific requirements, he would
institute _ on his own authority as Kansas secretary of state _ a dual
registration that limits Kansans who register with the federal form to voting
only in presidential, U.S. Senate and congressional races.

“We applaud the EAC’s decision to uphold this law and protect the right to
vote,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program at
NYU School of Law, which represents the League of Women Voters in the Kansas
litigation. “We hope Arizona and Kansas abandon their quest to undermine
federal law by making voter registration more complicated.”


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