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Saturday, March 29, 2014
Voting rights activists appeal proof-of-citizenship ruling
Civil rights groups on Friday appealed last week’s federal court decision that said states can require proof of citizenship on their voter registration forms — a ruling the activist groups said runs counter to Supreme Court precedent.
The judge had ruled that the federal Election Assistance Commission couldn’t refuse requests by Kansas and Arizona that registration cards distributed in their states include proof of citizenship requirements.
But the activists said that imposes an illegal burden on would-be voters.
“The EAC has the authority to reject the states’ unproven claims and unreasonable request to require more paperwork from eligible Americans who want to vote,” said Sam Wercinski, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network.”
Last week’s ruling, by Judge Eric F. Melgren, was viewed as a major boost for states’ rights and a setback for President Obama and other allies who’d fought against stiffer checks.
The judge said the Constitution gives states the power to determine voter qualifications, and if states want to insist on proof of citizenship the election commission cannot overrule them.
“The EAC’s nondiscretionary duty is to perform the ministerial function of updating the instructions to reflect each state’s laws,” Judge Melgren ruled in a decision out of Kansas. “The court orders the EAC to add the language requested by Arizona and Kansas to the state-specific instructions of the federal mail voter registration form immediately.”
Kris W. Kobach, Kansas’s secretary of state, said the Constitution gives states the right to determine qualifications for voters, and that’s what the judge upheld.
“These groups want the EAC to have the power to second-guess the decisions of the sovereign states about how to protect the integrity of the voter rolls. The Constitution makes clear that not even Congress has that power, much
less an unelected federal agency,” Mr. Kobach said.
Both Kansas and Arizona have state requirements that voters must prove their citizenship at the point they register. The registration cards printed by the state included that requirement.
But the federal EAC, which under federal law also distributes voter registration forms in the states, refused to include the proof-of-citizenship requirement.
In a complex ruling last year, the Supreme Court said states had to accept the federal forms — but also left open the chance for states to go back to the EAC and demand that it include proof of citizenship on forms distributed within their borders.
The EAC refused, and the states sued, leading to Judge Melgren’s ruling last week.
A number of civil rights groups in both states joined in Friday’s appeal, which was filed with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Mr. Kobach said the appeal will have a tough time.
“The judge’s opinion is a very careful one that follows the Supreme Court’s precedents,” he said.