A decision on whether states have a constitutional right to require proof-of-citizenship documentation for their residents who register to vote using a national form is now in the hands of a federal judge in a case with broad implications for voting rights. U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren listened to arguments from attorneys Tuesday, but did not immediately rule. He did not say when he would issue his written decision. The lawsuit filed by Kansas and Arizona seeks to force the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to include the heightened requirements only for their residents. However, the Justice Department has argued that changing the requirements on the federal form for those two states would in essence affect nationwide policy, because it might encourage other states to seek increased proof of citizenship to register to vote in federal elections.
Both states require voters to provide a birth certificate, passport or other proof of U.S. citizenship when registering to vote. Those who register using the federal form sign only a statement under oath that they are U.S. citizens.
In December, Melgren sent the issue back to the EAC for final agency action, but said he had “serious reservations” about the federal government’s power to rule on the voter registration issue. His tough questioning of attorneys for the Justice Department and voting rights groups during Tuesday’s hearing frequently returned to that state rights issue.