WICHITA, Kan. — Kansas and Arizona argued Tuesday they have a sovereign right to require proof of citizenship for voters in their states, even for federal elections.
The two states urged the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in a filing to lift the emergency suspension of a ruling from U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren that orders the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to modify its federal voter registration form to add special instructions for Arizona and Kansas residents about those states’ documentation requirements.
Circuit Judges Carlos Lucero and Jerome Holmes granted on Thursday the temporary halt sought by the commission and voting rights groups, a day after Melgren rejected a similar request to suspend his ruling during the appeal. Melgren had ordered the commission to carry out “without further delay” his March 19 directive.
Opponents of proof-of-citizenship requirements contend that the added documentation burdens result in an overall decrease in registration of eligible citizens, undermining the purpose of the National Voter Registration Act. The states argue the requirement protects the integrity of their elections by ensuring noncitizens aren’t voting.
In addition to arguing against a stay of Melgren’s order, both states also opposed in their latest filing the election commission’s request for expedited hearing by the 10th Circuit as soon as this summer on the merits of the case.
“The efficient administration of the election in 2014 demands that the district court’s correct decision remain in place and that additional uncertainty not be created by the prospect of litigation-driven, last-minute changes in the weeks before the elections,” the state wrote.
The EAC argued last week that Melgren’s ruling, unless stayed, would discourage voters from registering for this year’s federal elections, particularly if they do not have ready access to a copy of their birth certificate or other qualifying documentation, and would work a particular hardship on voter registration drives.
“The harm to voter registration this election cycle cannot be remedied even if this Court reverses,” the commission said.
It was unclear when the 10th Circuit will decide, but the appeal judges have temporarily halted the lower court’s ruling until further order from the court.
Kansas told the appeals court Tuesday that continuation of its stay would force the state to implement a burdensome dual election system, like the one in Arizona. Under that system, voters who registered with the federal form can only vote in federal races, while those using the more stringent state registration forms can vote in all elections.
Most voters in Arizona and Kansas register with state forms, but state officials claimed suspending Melgren’s ruling until the case is resolved on appeal would create a “massive loophole” in the state’s proof-of-citizenship documentation rules, allowing noncitizens to register to vote. The federal form simply requires people to certify under penalty of perjury that they are U.S. citizens.
The commission argued that suspending Melgren’s decision pending resolution of the appeal will not harm the states because it maintains the status quo under which they have carried out their elections for two decades.