Federal ruling, ‘huge victory,’ paves way for states to ensure only US citizens can vote

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Heads in Washington exploded Wednesday when a federal court ruled that state-mandated proof-of-citizenship requirements must be included by the Election Assistance Commission in its federal voter registration forms.

Kansas and Arizona both require proof-of-citizenship when registering to vote, but the commission refused the states’ request to include this requirement to the state-specific instructions on voter registration forms, according to Talking Points Memo.

Complicating the case somewhat, because there are no commissioners on the Election Assistance Commission, the executive director of the commission acted on his own in denying Kansas and Arizona’s request to include citizenship requirements on the form. After the denial, both states sued.

Reporting on the case in his legal blog, University of California-Irvine law professor Rick Hasen noted that the court made three essential points in its ruling:

The judge expresses doubt, without resolving the question, whether the Executive Director of the EAC had the authority to decide this question. The court said it was not necessary to resolve the question because even if the EAC had a full set of commissioners and voted 4-0 to reject Arizona’s request, the EAC would still lose for other reasons

The judge expresses doubt, without resolving the question, whether Congress would have the authority in the NVRA to pass a law about voter registration which would block states from collecting information, such as citizenship information, necessary to verify voter qualifications. Again, it said it did not reach the issue.

The judge concludes that Congress in the NVRA did not expressly preempt states from requiring citizenship information (if it did, it would raise serious constitutional questions about the NVRA [National Voter Registration Act]). In the absence of express preemption, and in light of the doubtful constitutional power to prevent states from collecting this information, the EAC was without power to deny Arizona and Kansas’s request to include the information on the federal form.

“This is a huge victory for the states of Kansas and Arizona,” Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said in a statement, TPM reported. “They have successfully protected our sovereign right to set and enforce the qualifications for registering to vote. We have now paved the way for all 50 states to protect their voter rolls and ensure that only U.S. citizens can vote.”

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U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren held that “the decision of the EAC denying the states’ requests to be unlawful and in excess of its statutory authority. … Therefore, the Court orders the EAC, or the EAC’s acting executive director, to add the language requested by Arizona and Kansas to the state-specific instructions on the federal mail voter registration form, effective immediately.”

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne told Talking Points Memo that his state had discovered a few years back that hundreds of people fraudulently registered to vote when completing jury duty forms. He called the riling “a significant victory for the people of Arizona over the Obama administration to assure that only citizens and not illegals vote in Arizona.”

The effective date of the court’s decision is significant, especially with midterm elections less than 8 months away.

“Somebody will appeal it I’m sure, but the decision by its terms says that it has to be implemented immediately,” Home said.

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