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Brennan Center Challenges Kansas and Arizona Voter Registration Restrictions

Restrictive laws requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote violate federal law, the Brennan Center argued today in a court motion filed on behalf of the League of Women Voters and two state affiliates.

November 21, 2013

Center Repres­ents League of Women Voters, Kansas and Arizona Affil­i­ates

Contact: Erik Opsal, erik.opsal@nyu.edu, 646–292–8356

New York, N.Y. – The League of Women Voters of the United States and the organ­iz­a­tion’s Kansas and Arizona affil­i­ates today joined a lawsuit arguing the new laws requir­ing proof of citizen­ship to register to vote in these states viol­ate federal law.

The League of Women Voters oper­ates one of the longest-running nonpar­tisan voter regis­tra­tion efforts in the nation. The docu­ment­ary proof-of-citizen­ship require­ments in Kansas and Arizona harm those regis­tra­tion efforts and under­mine the League’s core mission of promot­ing voter parti­cip­a­tion, accord­ing to the motion submit­ted today by the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, as well as pro bono coun­sel Kirk­land & Ellis LLP and David G. Seely of the law firm Fleeson, Gooing, Coulson & Kitch, LLC.

“The Kansas and Arizona laws would make it harder for certain citizens to vote,” said Wendy Weiser, who directs the Bren­nan Center’s Demo­cracy Program and repres­ents the Leagues in this case. “The Supreme Court this year inval­id­ated Arizon­a’s law and clearly confirmed Congress’s author­ity to protect the right to vote in federal elec­tions. This lawsuit by Kansas and Arizona is a trans­par­ent attempt to under­mine that author­ity, and it could seri­ously hurt voters.”

“The League has worked tire­lessly to remove barri­ers from voting and advoc­ate on behalf of the voting rights of all Amer­ic­ans,” said Elisa­beth MacNamara, national League Pres­id­ent. “The gains that the League has worked for are now being threatened by the docu­ment­ary proof-of-citizen­ship require­ments that Arizona and Kansas seek to force into the Federal Form.”

“The Arizona League had to drastic­ally reduce our efforts to register voters when the state imple­men­ted this require­ment a few years ago, because we did not have port­able photo­copy equip­ment,” said Barbara Klein of the League of Women Voters of Arizona. “This require­ment drains our resources and harms our mission — encour­aging voting and other forms of civic parti­cip­a­tion. Even when we did have access to copy equip­ment, our effect­ive­ness in complet­ing regis­tra­tions was reduced as people did not carry the required docu­ment­a­tion or were hesit­ant to share such personal and secur­ity-related inform­a­tion. Our members would volun­teer many hours only to be blamed by poten­tial voters who were angry and frus­trated by these oner­ous require­ments — all this making us unsuc­cess­ful in our mission to make voting an easy process. We’ve already won in the Supreme Court on this issue and are prepared to do what it takes to prevail again.”

“Kansans have not been well-served by this new require­ment,” said Dolores Furtado, Pres­id­ent of the League of Women Voters of Kansas. “Early imple­ment­a­tion of this law has been chaotic with thou­sands of voter regis­tra­tions held in suspense while citizens try to find or obtain appro­pri­ate docu­ment­a­tion. When we make things complex, it confuses people and means fewer people are regis­ter­ing and plan­ning to vote. In the end, the League can’t do its job, citizens are left out and the fabric of our demo­cracy is weakened.”

“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. “Also, my mother is a member of the Kansas chapter, and it is nice to be on the same team with her.”

The motion allows the League groups to join the U.S. Elec­tion Assist­ance Commis­sion (EAC) as defend­ants in the suit, Kris W. Kobach et al. v. United States Elec­tion Assist­ance Commis­sion, filed by Arizona and Kansas offi­cials in August.

It follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 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 power to regu­late federal elec­tions. Kansas and Arizona now seek 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 with a two-tiered voting system with two sets of voter regis­tra­tion lists for state and federal elec­tions. Under these rules, voters who register using 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 can only receive ballots for federal candid­ates.

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