WICHITA, Kansas — Kansas and Arizona residents can register to vote using a federal form without having to provide proof of citizenship, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Kansas and Arizona cannot demand federal election officials to help them enforce their laws requiring new voters to submit a birth certificate, passport or other papers documenting U.S. citizenship. Most new voters use a state voter registration form requiring such documents. The national form requires only that voters sign a sworn statement saying they are citizens.
Kansas and Arizona argued in the lawsuit that the proof-of-citizenship requirement protects the integrity of their elections. Opponents contended the added documentation burdens result in a decrease in the number of eligible voters, undermining the purpose of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act.
The three-judge appeals panel overturned the order in March by U.S. District Court Judge Eric Melgren that had required the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to modify its federal form.
The appeals court had temporarily blocked that order while it considered the case, so the two states instituted a dual voting system during this year's elections.
Under it, voters who registered with the federal form without providing citizenship documentation were allowed to cast a provisional ballot — but only their votes cast in federal races were counted. People who used the state registration form without proving their citizenship couldn't vote at all and any of their provisional ballots were thrown out.
Nothing in Friday's ruling changes that dual system in Kansas and Arizona, but the decision could have broader implications.
More than a dozen voting-rights groups have either joined the lawsuit or friend-of-the-court briefs. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and other top lawmakers urged the appeals court to throw out the lower court's ruling, arguing it would limit the authority of Congress to regulate federal elections and derail its ability to pass legislation protecting the right to vote. But Georgia and Alabama, which have similar proof-of-citizenship voter laws, filed a friend-of-court brief supporting Kansas and Arizona.
In its ruling, the 10th Circuit said Kansas and Arizona failed to show proof that registration fraud in the use of the federal voter registration form prevented states from enforcing their voter qualifications.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has championed his state's law as a way to prevent noncitizens from voting, particularly those living in the U.S. illegally. Critics say incidents of noncitizens registering to vote are extremely rare, and that such Republican-backed laws hurt voter registration efforts and disenfranchise voters from certain groups that tend to vote Democrat, including minorities and college students.
Kobach did not immediately return messages left on his cellphones seeking comment on Friday's ruling.
But it was hailed by League of Women Voters president Elisabeth MacNamara as handing voters a "strong win against unnecessary barriers to voter participation."
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