Civil Rights organizations in Kansas, Georgia and Alabama joined together in this latest lawsuit challenging a recent decision to allow those states to require proof of citizenship when their citizens register using the federal voter registration form.   

I’ve lost count of all the lawsuits around voting rights in Kansas.  An issue that most people thought was solved decades ago with the passage of the Voting Rights Act, is the new issue of the decade.  No doubt, the right to vote and access to the voting booth is under challenge, noted again this week with the latest lawsuit filed in an attempt to fight for the rights of citizens to vote. 

On Fri. Feb. 12, a coalition of voting rights groups sued a federal elections official who decided that residents of Kansas, Alabama and Georgia, can no longer register to vote using a national form without providing proof of U.S. citizenship.  The lawsuit was in response to a rather unilateral ruling by Brian Newby, executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.  Newby reversed a previous EAC stand that refused to allow Kansas to amend the federal voter registration form to require proof of citizenship for voters who register using the federal voter registration form. 

Let’s go back a little. The federal voter registration form, which can be used throughout the United States as an alternative to local voter registration forms, requires individuals to swear that they are citizens. It does not require a birth certificate or other document as proof.

Kansas, thanks to the encouragement of Secretary of State Kris Kobach, adopted a law that requires people to provide proof of citizenship to register to vote.   After the adoption of the proof of citizenship requirement in Kansas, Kobach pushed the EAC to change the federal form.  Newby’s predecessor rejected the request and Kansas and Arizona sued the EAC seeking to force the modifications. 

The 10th Circuit Court in November 2014 sided with the commission against the states and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the states’ appeal and required the states to accept the federal form. In response, Kobach set up a two-tiered voting system in Kansas.  If you registered to vote using the federal form you were only allowed to vote on federal races (i.e. President and the U.S. Senate and House races). 

Another lawsuit was filed, this time against Kobach and the State.  Earlier this year, the court ruled Kobach’s two-tiered system illegal.  It appeared the path around the proof of citizenship requirement was paved, just register using the federal form.  Now, just weeks later, Newby’s decision closes that pathway once again. 

Under the new rules, any resident in kansas who registers to vote using the federal form must show citizenship documentation — such as a birth certificate, naturalization papers or passport.   

Friday’s 224-page complaint filed in federal court, seeks a court order immediately blocking Newby’s changes.  The lawsuit contends the timing of the executive director’s decision could affect several upcoming federal elections, noting Alabama’s primary election will be held March 1.

Also named in the suit the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.  Earlier this month, EAC Commissioner Thomas Hicks, a Democrat, posted a blistering statement on the agency’s website saying Newby’s action constitutes a policy change that should have been taken up by the commission. Currently, there are three sitting members and a vacancy to be filled. Commissioners are appointed by the president and approved by the U.S. Senate. Newby was hired by the commissioners.

Partners in the lawsuit include the League of Women Voters, Project Vote, and the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP.  

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