When the U.S. Supreme Court opted Monday not to decide whether the federal voter-registration form must account for Kansas and Arizona laws requiring proof of citizenship, it was another major legal defeat for Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Too bad the move, though welcome, won’t do much for voter participation in Kansas. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled last November that the U.S. Election Assistance Commission need not require would-be Kansas and Arizona voters using the federal registration form to provide proof of U.S. citizenship, as per the two states’ laws. The federal form only asks applicants to swear they are citizens. Ruling that the states “have not provided substantial evidence of noncitizens registering to vote using the federal form,” the appeals court had overturned a decision by Wichita-based U.S. District Court Judge Eric Melgren siding with Kansas and Arizona.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law called the high court’s decision not to take the case “a critical victory to strengthen the right to vote in federal elections in Arizona and Kansas” that reaffirmed the “important role Congress plays in preserving a fair voter registration process across the country.” As Rick Hasen’s Election Law Blog put it: “This is a huge win for those who want to see a greater federal role and uniformity in elections.”
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s rebuff of the states’ appeal means Kobach’s absurd two-tiered voting system will stand in Kansas. The admittedly few Kansans who use the federal form will be able to vote – but only for the federal offices of president, U.S. senator and representative, unless they comply with the state proof-of-citizenship requirement. Unable to take “no” for an answer, as usual, Kobach said Monday he will ask the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s new members to consider changing the federal form.