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EAC Commissioners Divided on Authority Over Proof of Citizenship Documents

The split means burdensome voter registration requirements remain off federal forms in three states.

June 2, 2017

Split Means Burdensome Voter Registration Requirements Remain off Federal Forms in Three States

Washington, D.C. – Officials on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission announced in a federal court filing today that they’re split along partisan lines over whether the panel’s executive director acted within his authority last year when he allowed three states to include documentary proof of citizenship requirements on federal voter registration forms. The disagreement means that the September 2016 injunction against the burdensome registration requirements stills stands.
The memo, filed by commissioners in federal district court today, discussed Executive Director Brian Newby’s decision to grant the federal form requests at issue in the case. Two commissioners, Chair Matthew Masterson and Christy McCormick, both Republicans, found that Newby had the authority to do so. One, Thomas Hicks, a Democrat, found that he did not and wrote separately to that effect.
The Help America Vote Act, which created the commission, requires the vote of three commissioners to adopt a formal position. In his statement certifying that the commissioners voted on whether to approve the memo, Masterson acknowledged that the EAC did not “achieve the requisite 3 votes required by law.” So despite the fact that two commissioners indicated Newby had the authority to act, the EAC did not adopt that position.
Plaintiffs in the case — the League of Women Voters of the United States, along with its Alabama, Georgia, and Kansas affiliates and others — originally filed a suit against Newby in February 2016. The groups argued that he violated both EAC policy and federal law in allowing Kansas, Alabama, and Georgia to require documents that an estimated 7 percent of voters don’t have.
“Today’s filing is consistent with federal requirements ensuring the commission acts only in a bipartisan manner,” said Wendy Weiser, the director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “The fact that the burdensome requirements remain blocked is a victory for voters.” 
“While there were differences of opinion among the EAC Commissioners, they all agreed that changes could not be made without three votes,” said Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters. “This is what the League has maintained all along.”
For further background on the lawsuit, visit the Brennan Center’s case page.