WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The federal Justice Department has refused to support a U.S. elections official who sided with Kansas, Alabama and Georgia in a fight over whether voters should have to show proof of citizenship when registering using a national form.
The government conceded in a court filing that the executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and his agency cannot win the lawsuit on its merits because he never determined, as required by the National Voter Registration Act, that the documents were “necessary” to determine the eligibility of voters.
Residents of other states only need to swear that they are citizens, not show proof.
The Justice Department also sided with voting rights groups who sued the federal agency and it urged a federal judge to temporarily block the proof-of-citizenship requirements for residents in the three states. A hearing is set for March 7 in Washington, D.C.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon refused late Tuesday to take any action before that upcoming hearing, noting that the registration deadlines for the Alabama and Georgia primaries and for the Kansas Republican caucus had already passed.
The judge also noted the Justice Department had taken “the extraordinary step of consenting” to the voting rights groups’ request for an injunction, and said the court is not yet convinced those groups had demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success of winning the case — adding he looks forward to benefit of a “full, adversarial briefing on the complex and important issues this case presents.”
The League of Women Voters and other voting rights groups contend the timing of commission director Brian Newby’s actions jeopardizes several upcoming federal elections. The groups argue the requirements hurt their ability to conduct voter registration drives and deprive eligible voters of the right to vote in federal elections.
Alabama’s primary election is March 1, although its deadline for registration for it has passed. Kansas has its caucuses on March 5, and the Democratic Party allows voter registration on the day of its caucus. The registration deadline for Georgia’s March 1 presidential primary election has passed, but April 26 is the registration deadline for state and local primary elections.
Newby granted the states’ request to change the federal form’s state-specific instructions.
The government noted in its filing that when Congress enacted the National Voting Registration Act it considered and specifically rejected requiring proof-of-citizenship documents when registering to vote.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has intervened in the lawsuit on Newby’s behalf.
Newby, who took the top job at the EAC in November, is a former Kansas election official who had been appointed to his state job by Kobach. As a Kansas official, Newby had publicly supported the state’s efforts to modify the federal form.
Kansas submitted its fifth request to change the federal form two weeks after Newby’s appointment as the EAC’s executive director.
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