A federal appeals court heard arguments on Monday in a challenge over whether Arizona and Kansas can require federal election officials to include proof-of-citizenship requirements on federal voter registration forms.
Currently, Arizona and Kansas have laws in place that require state residents to provide documentssuch as a birth certificate or passportto prove theyre U.S. citizens when registering to vote in local and state elections. Meanwhile, those who register using a federal registration form are required to swear under penalty of perjury that they are U.S. citizens and are not asked to provide supporting documents.
Voters who do not provide additional documents to prove theyre U.S. citizens are put on the federal only list of voters. That means those voters are able to vote only in federal races, like the the race for Congress, but not in any state or local election.
Arizona and Kansas argue that requiring all voters to provide additional documents to prove they are U.S. citizens helps prevent voter fraud. But voting-rights groups argue that it disenfranchises voters from certain groups, including the elderly, naturalized citizens and Native Americans.
On Monday, a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver heard arguments from both sides.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach argued on behalf of Kansas and Arizona. The Wichita Eagle reported that Kobach told the judges that the Election Assistance Commission, which regulates the federal voter registration forms, is required to grant the states requests to add proof-of-citizenship requirements to the federal registration forms.
But Judge Jerome A. Holmes, a member of the three-judge panel, seemed to disagree. Holmes implied, according to The Wichita Eagle, that the commissioners who sit on the Elections Assistance Commission are the ones who ultimately decide what necessary changes are made to the federal voter registration form.
The Elections Assistance Commissions website states that the commission is tasked with ensuring the national voter registration form is in accordance with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. The federal law mandates voters who register using the federal registration form to swear under penalty of perjury that they are U.S. citizens. Therefore, the proof-of-citizenship requirements enforced by Arizona and Kansas appear to be at odds with the 1993 law.
But the three-judge panel questioned whether the Elections Assistance Commission has the power to decide what goes on the federal registration form given that Congress has not approved a single commissioner to sit on the commission. A few months ago, Arizona and Kansas sued the commission after it refused to add the proof-of-citizenship requirements to the federal registration form. The commission issued its refusal after a court judge ordered it to make a decision.
Fighting voter fraud vs. disenfranchising voters
Republicans from Arizona and Kansans argue that the proof-of-citizenship requirements help prevent those who are not eligible to vote, including undocumented immigrants, from doing so.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, who is known for his tough stance on immigration and is running for re-election, recently told The New York Times: People are very emotional about illegals voting and diluting their own votes.
But voting-rights advocates like Sam Wercinski, executive director of Arizona Advocacy Network, say there hasn’t been any credible evidence that shows voting frauds is occurring. What we actually see is fraud being committed by the politicians when they disenfranchise or prevent tens of thousands of eligible Americans from registering to vote, he said in an interview with VOXXI.
Wercinski also said voters are already asked to sign and attest under oath that they are eligible to vote when they fill out the federal voter registration form.
What these anti-voter politicians are doing is theyre being selective in what theyre asking voters to provide in addition to the form and the oath that theyre taking when they register to vote, he said. By being selective on what forms of citizenship and additional documentation theyre looking for, they make it more difficult for particular segments of American citizens to register to vote.
Raquel Teran, the Arizona director of Mi Familia Vota, agreed with Wercinski. She argued in an interview with VOXXI that asking for additional proof of citizenship creates barriers for many voters, including Latinos. She said there are many people who cannot register to vote in Arizona even though theyre eligible because they dont have the necessary documents to prove they are U.S. citizens. She said this is very common among high school and college students.
For us, these are laws that are just creating barriers for people to register to vote, Teran said.