'Proof of Citizenship' Voting Rules in Kan., Ariz. Upheld by Judge

By Brett Snider, Esq. on March 20, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Voter laws in Arizona and Kansas requiring proof of citizenship when registering by mail were upheld by a federal judge Wednesday.

A U.S. District Court judge in Witchita, Kansas, ruled that because Congress had not acted to outlaw these sorts of "proof of citizenship" rules in the states, the two states were free to add those requirements to voter registration forms, reports Reuters. This ruling overturned a decision by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) which had denied Arizona's and Kansas' requests to require proof of citizenship for voters.

Does upholding a "proof of citizenship" requirement sanction voter suppression in these states?

Arizona's Successful Change in Rules

This isn't the first time that Arizona had attempted to require voters to provide proof of citizenship in order to register. The U.S. Supreme Court actually struck down a 2004 Arizona law last year because the requirement that voters show "proof" (i.e., documentation) of citizenship went far beyond federal requirements.

However, in that majority opinion authored by Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court noted that Arizona's government could petition the EAC to change the form's requirements. And if the EAC denied the state's request to include "proof" on the form, then they could seek help in the courts.

Less than a year after Justice Scalia gave this helpful advice, the Arizona government did just that -- and triumphed in federal court. U.S. District Court Judge Eric F. Melgren stated in his opinion that federal law allows each state to have "state specific instructions" on mail-in voter registration forms, and it has not spoken on allowing states the right to change these requirements to include proof of citizenship.

Much of Judge Melgren's decision rested on the idea that federal election law had not pre-empted the state's authority to make these changes, and in denying them, the EAC overstepped its bounds.

Kansas Goes Along for the Ride

This case was filed in Kansas federal court on behalf of Arizona and Kansas' very similar requests to add proof of citizenship to their state-specific voter registration forms. Wednesday's ruling found that both states' requests had been illegally denied by the EAC.

Judge Melgren's ruling goes into effect immediately for both Kansas and Arizona. Absent a stay or an appeal of his judgment, both states are free to require mail-in voters to show proof of citizenship.

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