Judge Sends Voter Registration Case Back to Agency

(CN) – A federal judge says it’s up to the Election Assistance Commission to decide whether its executive director exceeded his authority when he allowed three states to change a national mail voter registration form to include a requirement of proof of U.S. citizenship.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, held the case must be remanded to the commission “for the limited purpose of providing an interpretation of its internal directive which is necessary for resolution of the threshold issue of whether [Executive Director Brian] Newby acted within his subdelegated authority.”

The dispute over the form involves Newby’s 2016 decision to allow Alabama, Georgia and Kansas to change the voter registration form.

The three states had previously requested the modifications to reflect their respective state laws. Newby said that he considered their approval to be “ministerial.”

The League of Women Voters and other voting rights organizations challenged the modifications, claiming that Newby lacked the authority to make the changes without a vote of the commissioners.

In his Feb. 24 ruling, Leon wrote that the Commission itself was in the best position to interpret its less-than-clear policies on the issue.

“The Commission has expertise and insight that makes it better situated to interpret the meaning of its ambiguous organizational directive than is this Court,” Leon wrote, “and it would therefore be imprudent for me to impose my own interpretation at this juncture.”

According to Leon, there’s been “no consistent or longstanding practice as to the Executive Director’s authority to grant or deny state instruction requests.”

Furthermore, the Commission’s 2015 Policy Statement failed to specifically delegate the task of maintaining the federal form to the executive director, as a previous document had done.

“On remand, the Commission will have the opportunity to provide a reasonable interpretation of the Executive Director’s authority to grant and deny state instruction requests under the 2015 Policy Statement,” Leon concluded.

During the remand period, Leon said that the preliminary injunction ordered by the D.C. Circuit Court in September would remain in place.

The defendants’ explanation is to be filed by June 1.

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