PHOENIX (CN) - An attempt by Kansas and Arizona to require proof of citizenship for voters who register with a federal form failed before the 10th Circuit.
The states sued in Kansas last year after the U.S. Election Assistance Commission blocked them from requiring citizenship documents with federal voter-registration forms, which only requires a sworn statement.
Though a Wichita federal judge found in March that the agency overstepped its bounds, a three-member panel with the 10th Circuit sided against the two Republican-led states on Friday.
Important to the Denver-based federal appeals court's holding was the the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last year in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, which struck down a citizenship-proof requirement in Arizona to register as voters.
Ultimately states lacked authority to demand the federal government to add language to the federal form that requires citizenship proof, and failed to show the proof was necessary to stop voting by noncitizens, according to Friday's ruling
"The states have failed to meet their evidentiary burden of proving that they cannot enforce their voter qualifications because a substantial number of noncitizens have successfully registered using the federal form," Judge Carlos Lucero wrote for a three-judge panel.
The states claimed in their lawsuit that the Election Assistance Commission and its acting director, Alice Miller, were required under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) to make the modifications to the federal form "because the proposed modifications reflect the respective voter qualification and registration laws of plaintiffs, and include state-specific instructions that enable plaintiffs to obtain information plaintiffs deem necessary to assess the eligibility of voter registration applicants and to enforce plaintiffs' voter qualifications."
Lucero disagreed, finding that the agency was required to make the changes only if it found the states were unable to enforce voter qualifications without the text.
"The executive director supported her conclusion in detail with evidence in the record, rationally connected that evidence to the conclusions that she drew, and was fully consistent with the EAC's own regulations and prior reasonable interpretation of the NVRA in its 2006 response to Arizona," Lucero wrote. "Specifically, the executive director's decision discussed in significant detail no fewer than five alternatives to requiring documentary evidence of citizenship that states can use to ensure that noncitizens do not register using the federal form."
A number of nonprofits advocating for minority and women voters in the states contested the lawsuit.
"Voters should not have to face an obstacle course in order to participate in our democracy," Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters of the U.S., said in a statement. "This is a good, strong ruling for voters and for Americans' essential right to vote."
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