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Arguments Today: Voting Laws in Kansas and Arizona Violate Federal Law

The Department of Justice and Kris Kobach will square off today in oral arguments over new laws in Kansas and Arizona that require proof of citizenship in order to register to vote.

August 25, 2014

Tens of Thousands of People Could Find it Harder to Vote As Kansas and Arizona Seek to Impose Strict Proof of Citizenship Requirements

Denver, CO – With Congress’ power to protect voters in federal elections in jeopardy, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver will hear oral arguments today in a landmark voting rights case, Kris W. Kobach et al. v. United States Election Assistance Commission.

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School is representing the League of Women Voters — which along with its Kansas and Arizona affiliates, joined the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) as defendants in the case — arguing new laws in Kansas and Arizona requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote violate federal law.

The League of Women Voters represented by the Brennan Center and pro bono counsel Kirkland & Ellis LLP and David G. Seely of the law firm Fleeson, Gooing, Coulson & Kitch, LLC, operates one of the longest-running nonpartisan voter registration efforts in the nation. Kansas and Arizona’s strict proof of citizenship laws have harmed voter registration drives and undermined Congressional efforts to provide access to the ballot in federal elections, according to a brief submitted by the League and other civic organizations.   

“These laws could prevent tens of thousands of citizens from exercising their right to vote,” said Wendy Weiser, who directs the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program and represents the Leagues in this case. “Last year, the Supreme Court invalidated Arizona’s law and decisively confirmed Congress’ authority to protect the right to vote in federal elections. Officials in Kansas and Arizona are attempting to undermine that authority, which could seriously harm voters.”

“These new laws make it harder for non-partisan civic groups like the League to advocate for Americans’ voting rights and register eligible voters,” said Elisabeth MacNamara, national League President. “Kansas and Arizona are flouting congressional authority and making it more difficult for eligible voters to cast a ballot.”

“Arizona’s proof of citizenship requirement has drastically harmed our efforts to register voters and promote civic participation,” said Robyn Prud’homme-Bauer of the League of Women Voters of Arizona. “After the state implemented this requirement, it became nearly impossible for us to conduct effective voter registration efforts because potential voters we encountered did not have access to their birth certificates, or were hesitant to share personal information.”

“Kansans will be left out of the democratic process if this new requirement is upheld,” said Dolores Furtado, President of the League of Women Voters of Kansas. “When we make the voter registration process complex, it confuses people and means that fewer people will register and plan to vote.”

“Kirkland & Ellis is honored to be part of the team that is seeking to defeat these extraneous and entirely unnecessary requirements — requirements that strike at the very heart of participatory democracy by substantially interfering with the right to vote, particularly among the poor, minorities, and other traditionally disenfranchised communities,” said Michael Keats of Kirkland & Ellis, who also represents the Leagues.

“Our firm is pleased to be able to assist the national, Kansas, and Arizona chapters of the League of Women Voters to present their unique perspective regarding voting rights in this important matter,” said David G. Seely of Fleeson, Gooing, Coulson & Kitch.

This case follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2013 ruling in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., which invalidated Arizona’s law requiring documentary proof of citizenship to register to vote, as it applied to the federal registration form. The ruling stated the law violated the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, a statute that was well within Congress’s broad powers to regulate federal elections. Kansas and Arizona are now seeking to force the EAC to change the federal form to allow those states to require proof of citizenship as part of the voter registration process.

While the case is in process, Kansas and Arizona are moving ahead to limit voter participation with a two-tiered system with two sets of voter registration lists for state and federal elections. Under these rules, voters who register with documentary proof of citizenship on state forms are eligible to vote for the complete ballot — including ballot initiatives, and state and local candidates at every level. But voters who register using the federal form and do not provide citizenship documents can only receive ballots for federal candidates. This two-tiered voter registration system is being challenged in a separate suit.