A federal appeals court has ruled that Kansas cannot force a federal agency to add state proof-of-citizenship requirements to federal voting registration forms. The decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver is a significant setback to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s efforts to require documents proving citizenship – almost always a birth certificate or passport – to register to vote. Arizona has a similar requirement and Kobach argued the case on behalf of both states in conjuction with Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett. Wichita District Judge Eric Melgren had ruled that the Election Assistance Commission, a federal agency, was required to add state-specific citizenship-proof requirements to the instructions for using the federal form in Kansas and Arizona. The appeals court overturned Melgren’s ruling.
The EAC’s form, enabled by the National Voting Rights Act, was meant to create a common voter-registration form that could be used to register across the country. The main difference between federal and Kansas state registration forms is that the Kansas form requires documental proof of citizenship, while the federal form requires a signed affidavit under penalty of perjury to prove citizenship.
The appeals court specifically rejected Kobach’s and Bennett’s contention that the EAC had no choice but to add the instructions demanded by the states. The court also ruled that the decision not to include the state requirement was a valid exercise of power by the executive director of the commission, in the absence of a quorum of commissioners. The commission currently has no members due to Senate gridlock over President Obama’s nominees.