Federal election officials have asked a judge to temporarily suspend his own order that they help Kansas and Arizona enforce state laws requiring voters to prove their U.S. citizenship, arguing that the case “implicates the fundamental right to register to vote.” The court filing late Monday comes in response to U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren’s decision on March 19 requiring the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to immediately modify a national voter registration form to add special instructions for Arizona and Kansas residents about those states’ proof-of-citizenship requirements. More than a dozen voting rights groups, which had previously intervened in the litigation, made a similar joint request for a stay last week. Project Vote Inc. filed its own motion Tuesday seeking the same thing. Kansas and Arizona had asked the federal agency for state-specific modifications, but it refused. Secretaries of State Kris Kobach of Kansas and Ken Bennett of Arizona, both conservative Republicans, sued the agency last year.
Arizona enacted its proof-of-citizenship requirement by voter initiative in 2004, and Alabama, Georgia and Kansas followed with similar laws. Most voters in both states register with state forms, but their officials said the availability of the federal form created a loophole in enforcement of proof-of-citizenship requirements. Supporters argue the requirements preclude voter fraud by preventing noncitizens from voting, particularly those who are in the country illegally.
Critics of such laws view them as suppressing voter participation, undermining the core purpose of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
The election commission argued that it has a substantial case that is likely to succeed on appeal because the district court’s order conflicts with a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year and does not give appropriate deference to the agency’s fact-findings when it rejected the state’s requests.