The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has reversed a prior ruling that allowed certain state US election agencies to require a proof-of-citizenship for a mail-in federal voter registration form used for November’s election in Kansas, Alabama, and Georgia. To date, Kansas was the only state to actually enforce the rule, and in oral arguments, civil rights groups claimed that if permitted the ID provision could potentially disenfranchise tens of thousands of US citizens applying to vote in Kansas without required papers.
The requirement entailed a “demand to show documentation such as a birth certificate, passport or naturalization papers instead of accepting signed and sworn affirmation of citizenship to register to vote in federal races.” Two US Appeals Court judges, Judith W. Rogers and Stephen F. Williams, granted a preliminary injunction and the case will go back down to the district court.
For native and naturalized citizens, one of the greatest rights one possesses is the right to vote for public officers; however, voter requirements, including providing a state-issued ID or proof of citizenship, have been considered by some an undue burden and discriminatory. The Obama administration has waged ongoing battles with conservative lawyers and Republican lawmakers over voter requirements and who will be eligible to vote in this year’s presidential election, and the administration has asked federal appeals courts to repeal new voting laws passed in Texas, North Carolina, and other states. Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters, who brought the suit in this case, says voting should be made easier, not harder: “We are grateful to the court of appeals for stopping this thinly veiled discrimination in its tracks,” she tells The Washington Post. “All eligible Americans deserve the opportunity to register and vote without obstacles.”
In this case, voter groups sued after what they called an “unauthorized and unilateral decision” earlier this year by Brian D. Newby, executive director of the US Election Assistance Commission, to grant the three states’ requests to change the federal registration form to include new ID requirements to reportedly combat voter fraud. In the 2-1 ruling, US Appeals Court Judge A. Raymond Randolph, disagreed with his fellow judges and agreed with Newby stating that it would “raise serious constitutional doubts” if the federal elections assistance body prevented a state from “enforcing its voter qualifications.” Kansas Secretary of State Kris W. Kobach, who defended the voter ID requirement in court, claimed that “any harm to potential voters was speculative.” The final result of this case remains to be seen as it is now back with the district court, though Kobach stated previously that if the state were to lose it would retroactively allow voters to cast ballots in federal races if their applications were canceled solely because they did not document citizenship.