George W. Bush-Appointed Judge Orders U.S. Election Commission to Help Kansas and Arizona Enforce Proof of Citizenship Voting Laws

Friday, March 21, 2014
Judge Eric F. Melgren

Federal elections officials must help states that want to make it harder for voters to register, according to a federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush.


The ruling by Judge Eric F. Melgren in Kansas supports efforts in that state and Arizona to require individuals to submit proof of citizenship before becoming a registered voter.


Kansas’ secretary of state, Republican Kris Kobach, a vocal critic of illegal immigration, sued the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) after it refused his requests and similar ones from Arizona to add state-specific instructions to a national voter registration form.


The EAC preferred to only require would-be voters to sign a legal form swearing under oath they were citizens, while Kansas and Arizona wanted documented proof of such status.


Melgren wrote that the commission’s denial of the states’ requests was “unlawful and in excess of its statutory authority.” His ruling means that, if states so desire, a driver’s license or a statement signed under penalty of perjury would no longer suffice as proof of U.S. citizenship.


Kobach called the ruling “a win for states’ rights,” adding, “We have now paved the way for all 50 states to protect their voter rolls and ensure that only U.S. citizens can vote.”


Republicans have argued proof of citizenship is necessary for voter registration to mitigate fraud in elections, which Kobach has called rampant.


However, “there has been little evidence of in-person voter fraud or efforts by noncitizens to vote,” according to The New York Times, which added that the ruling in Kobach v. Election Assistance Commission is likely to affect low-income individuals, blacks and Hispanics.


“Studies have shown that the poor and minorities often lack passports and access to birth certificates needed to register under the laws in question,” the Times’ Fernanda Santos wrote.


To date, more than 10,000 people in Kansas have lost their right to vote for failing to provide proof of citizenship. The number in Arizona is 2,000. In Texas, gun permits are accepted as a valid form of identification, while college IDs are not.


This ruling, along with like-minded Republican efforts in other states, is designed to shape the landscape on social issues, according to Democratic Arizona state Sen. Steve Gallardo. “These are new voters that are getting active,” he told the Associated Press. “They tend to be a lot more progressive and liberal… particularly when it comes to issues like medical marijuana, same-sex marriage... .That’s what this ruling does now—it makes it more difficult for this segment of voters, students, to vote.”  


Melgren’s ruling will take effect immediately unless the U.S. Department of Justice, which represented the EAC, files an appeal.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Big News from Federal Court: Republican States May Soon Demand Proof of Citizenship for Voting in Federal Elections (by Rick Hasen, Election Law Blog)

Ugly New Turn in Republican War on Voters (by Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet)

Two States Win Court Approval on Voter Rules (by Fernanda Santos, New York Times)

Kris Kobach v. Election Assistance Commission (U.S. District Court, Kansas)

Federal Election Commission Lawyers Call for Investigation of Illegal Activity by Karl Rove Super PAC…No Action Expected (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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