Court Tosses Restrictive Proof of Citizenship Requirement for Would Be Voters

By Kenrya Rankin Sep 12, 2016

Back in January, Brian Newby, executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, approved a proof of citizenship requirement for Alabama, Georgia and Kansas. On Friday (September 9), a federal appeals court blocked the provision.

Newby argued that the rule, which required that voters need to show documentation—such as a birth certificate or passport—to prove citizenship before they could even register to vote was meant to keep non-citizens (that is, immigrants) from voting. The League of Women Voters (LWV) argued in court that the requirement disenfranchised potential voters. From a statement posted to the organization’s website following the ruling: “This action has illegally kept voters from the polls, caused confusion, and threatened the lawful voter registration efforts of the League and other groups.”

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruling granted a preliminary injunction that would remove the provision. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia previously denied LWV’s motion.

The court will file an extensive set of opinions at a later date, but the ruling says volumes, making it clear that the illegal restriction must be lifted in the three states for incoming registrations as well as all those filed since the rule went into effect:

[It is] further ordered that the Commission take all actions necessary to restore the status quo ante, pending a determination on the merits, including promptly removing from the state-specific instructions those requirements directing voter registration applicants to submit proof of their United States citizenship, informing Kansas, Alabama and Georgia that Federal Form applications filed since January 29, 2016, should be treated as if they did not contain the now-stricken state-specific instructions, and promptly posting on the Commission’s website the modified version of the Federal Form.

NPR reports that the provision—which added the requirement to the National Mail Voter Registration Form —has only been enforced in Kansas to date. As it stands, the form requires users to swear that they are citizens, but does not require documentation at the time of registration. Per NPR, the requirement “disproportionately impacted people under 30, the elderly and those living in urban areas.” Kansas is 13.3 percent people of color. Alabama is 30.5 percent and Georgia is 38.4 percent.