A federal judge sent back to federal elections officials Friday a request by Kansas and Arizona to force modifications in a national voter registration form so the states can fully enforce proof-of-citizenship requirements for their residents. U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren gave the U.S. Election Assistance Commission until Jan. 17 to make a final agency decision on the requests by the two states, but kept control of the lawsuit in anticipation of further court proceedings. The commission has told the states it has deferred acting on the request until it has a quorum of commissioners. The panel has been without a quorum since about 2010 and has been without any commissioners since 2011, the judge noted in his order. Melgren found there has been no final agency decision, essentially making a jurisdictional ruling in the case. But he noted that the Justice Department has argued that even without commissioners the agency can act upon the states’ requests.
If the commission doesn’t act by the court-imposed deadline, the state requests will be deemed denied, Melgren said. The judge told a packed courtroom that he has serious reservations the commission is capable of rendering a decision. He also said he has serious reservations about the federal government’s power to rule on the voter registration issue.
The states want the federal form to include instructions requiring Kansas and Arizona residents to provide a birth certificate, passport or other proof of U.S. citizenship when registering to vote.
The Justice Department says such a change places an additional obstacle for eligible voters and would affect nationwide policy by setting a precedent.