Get ready voters: It’s time to be confused. Even as Americans start heading to the polls for this year’s presidential primaries, laws remain in flux in a number of states — including North Carolina and Texas, where voter ID requirements are being challenged in court. Now the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency charged with helping to improve the running of elections, has added to the confusion. And unlike most voter ID conflicts — which involve showing identification at the polls — this comes earlier in the process, when residents are first registering to vote. The EAC has been in a long legal battle with Kansas regarding the state’s requirement that residents show proof-of-citizenship when they register to vote — even if they use a federal registration form, administered by the EAC. The federal form — which can be used throughout the United States as an alternative to local voter registration forms — requires individuals to swear that they are citizens, not provide a birth certificate or other document as proof.
Just last month, a state judge ruled that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach could not enforce the proof-of-citizenship requirement for those who use the federal form. Kobach argued that those who don’t provide such proof shouldn’t be allowed to vote in Kansas’s state and local elections.
But late last week, the EAC’s new executive director — Brian Newby, a former county elections official in Kansas — sent a letter to the state saying that the agency had updated the instructions on filling out that federal form to include the proof-of-citizenship requirement for Kansas residents. This came after previous EAC executive directors had refused to add the requirement.
That led one of the EAC’s three commissioners — Thomas Hicks, the only Democratic appointee — to issue a highly unusual statement Tuesday calling for Newby’s letter to be withdrawn. He said it “contradicts policy and precedent previously established by this commission,” and he called on the commission to review the matter in a public forum.