WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — After Kansas began requiring residents to prove they were U.S. citizens to register to vote, the League of Women Voters started focusing its voter registration efforts at naturalization ceremonies, where people readily have such documents on them. Now that immigration officials have prohibited them from copying naturalization certificates, new citizens face discrimination and significant roadblocks in registering to vote, the group told a federal appeals court Thursday.
The latest court filing by voting rights groups in a lawsuit unfolding before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals portrays a sample of the possible impacts at issue in the run-up to this year’s elections.
Kansas and Arizona are seeking to force the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to change its federal voter registration form for those states to include special instructions requiring citizenship documentation. In March, a federal judge agreed and ordered the commission to immediately modify its forms, but the 10th Circuit last week put that ruling on hold, at least temporarily.
Whatever the courts decide will affect primary elections in August and the general election in November.
Voting rights groups argued in their filing that thousands of U.S. citizens in Kansas and Arizona could be barred from using a federal form to register and vote in the upcoming federal election.
Naturalized citizens, for example, would have to go to an election office and show their original papers to register. Dolores Furtado, president of the League of Women Voters in Kansas, told the court in an affidavit that the group also hasn’t been able to register people who were born outside of Kansas or whose name does not exactly match their documentation, such as married women.
To make their point, the voting rights groups cited the massive voter registration suspense list in Kansas, noting that 28 percent of the people who attempted to register as of Jan. 21 had incomplete applications because of the documentation requirements.
As of Thursday, the list has 17,995 people whose registration forms are on hold, according to the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office.
Federal election officials and their supporters contend the federal form provides an important backstop to allowing participation of all eligible voters in federal elections, regardless of “onerous” requirements states may place to vote in their own elections.
But the two states contend the availability of a federal form — which requires only that people attest under penalty of perjury that they are citizens — creates a “massive loophole” in enforcing their voter proof-of-citizenship laws and maintaining the integrity of their elections.
They want the appeals judges to lift the stay, which would force the EAC to change its federal voter registration form to require citizenship proof from Kansas and Arizona residents. Unless the stay is lifted, Kansas has told the court it would implement a dual election system similar to the one in Arizona in which voters who registered with the federal form can vote only in federal races.