Voter citizenship suit stalled as feds mull action

1/18/2014

WICHITA (AP) — A much-anticipated decision by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission over requests to modify registration forms to allow Kansas and Arizona to fully implement proof-of-citizenship voting laws on their residents is not expected to settle the matter — even if officials act in time for Friday's court-imposed deadline.

WICHITA (AP) — A much-anticipated decision by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission over requests to modify registration forms to allow Kansas and Arizona to fully implement proof-of-citizenship voting laws on their residents is not expected to settle the matter — even if officials act in time for Friday's court-imposed deadline.

What happens next depends only in part on the election commission's decision, if any. The proof-of-citizenship requirement championed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has come under attack not only in the courts, but in the Legislature and in his re-election campaign.

Most immediately, the issue will likely return to the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren, who has held onto litigation in anticipation of further proceedings. Melgren, who wants a final agency decision before the court gets involved, has said that if the commission didn't respond by Friday's deadline, he would deem the request denied.

EAC spokesman Bryan Whitener said Friday afternoon that the "matter is still under review," and the Kansas Secretary of State's Office had not heard anything from the commission. The judge did not specify a time for his deadline, although it is not unusual for court filings to be made shortly before midnight.

Both states enacted laws requiring new voters to provide a birth certificate, passport or other proof of U.S. citizenship when registering to vote, and most voters use state forms that enforce the requirement. But some voters use the federal form, which requires only that someone sign a statement under oath that he or she is a U.S. citizen, and Kansas and Arizona want to force a change to close what their officials see as a loophole in enforcement of their proof-of-citizenship requirements.

The U.S. Justice Department has argued that changing the requirements on the federal form for residents of Kansas and Arizona would in essence affect nationwide policy because it might encourage every state to seek increased proof of citizenship in order to register for federal elections.

Kobach has pushed 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. The registrations of 20,127 Kansans remained on hold Friday because they've not yet provided proof of their citizenship to election officials.

If Kobach gets his way and the commission agrees to change the state-specific requirements on the federal voter registration form as he wants, the lawsuit he filed to force that outcome will become unnecessary.

But if the commission either rejects the request or refuses to act in time, the court is expected to set an evidentiary hearing to take up the states' request that the judge order the commission to modify their form.

Melgren said last month he has serious reservations about the federal government's power to rule on the voter registration issue. Regardless of how the judge ultimately rules in the case, the issue is likely to be appealed.

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 either the commission or Melgren to modify the federal registration form with state-specific requirements, he would institute a dual registration that limits Kansans who register with the federal form to voting only in presidential, U.S. Senate and congressional races.

A separate American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit contends Kobach has no authority to create a dual registration system in Kansas.

Several Democratic lawmakers in Kansas have proposed rewriting or repealing the state's proof-of-citizenship law. Former state Sen. Jean Schodorf, the expected Democratic challenger for Kobach, is calling on legislators to audit how Kobach's office has administered the law.

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