A federal appeals court on Friday blocked Kansas, Georgia and Alabama from requiring residents to prove they are U.S. citizens when registering to vote using a national form. The 2-1 ruling is a victory for voting rights groups who said a U.S. election official illegally changed proof-of-citizenship requirements on the federal registration form at the behest of the three states. People registering to vote in other states are only required to swear that that they are citizens, not show documentary proof. The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia acted swiftly in the case, issuing a two-page, unsigned ruling just a day after hearing oral arguments. A federal judge in July had refused to block the requirement while the case is considered on the merits. The League of Women Voters and civil rights groups argued that the requirements could lead to the “mass disenfranchisement” of thousands of potential voters — many of them poor, African-American and living in rural areas.
The groups took issue with the actions of Brian Newby, executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, who changed the federal form shortly after he took the job last November. Newby is a former Kansas election official who had publicly supported the state’s effort to make the change.
The case now returns to the district court for a full hearing on the merits. But the appeals court said the voting rights groups are likely to succeed on the merits.