A federal judge on Wednesday sided with two states that want to force new voters to prove they are citizens, over a federal elections commission. In the process, the ruling opens the door to other states that want to impose proof-of-citizenship requirements — and an almost certain Supreme Court showdown over the latest front in the war on voting rights. Kansas and Arizona both require new registrants to provide a birth certificate, passport or some other proof that they are citizens; they sued the U.S. Election Assistance Commission after the EAC refused to modify its federal form to account for the state requirements. On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Eric Melgren ruled the EAC didn’t have the authority to deny Kansas and Arizona’s request, and ordered the EAC to modify a national voter registration form to include special instructions for residents of the two states. The ruling won’t have much of an immediate impact on voters. Few voters actually register using the federal form; elections officials in Maricopa County, population nearly 4 million, estimated only about 900 residents had registered to vote using the federal form without showing proof of citizenship.
And even those 900 voters, and the rest in both states who registered using the federal form without showing proof of citizenship, would be allowed to cast ballots in federal elections, under a 2013 Supreme Court decision known as Arizona v. Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. That ruling, authored by Justice Antonin Scalia, held that Arizona had to accept the federal voter registration form without proof of citizenship.
But it also held that states have the power to set voter qualifications. Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne took that to mean voters who registered using the federal form and didn’t show proof of citizenship could cast ballots in federal elections, but not state elections (See our October story here).