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D.C. Circuit Leaves Voting Form Changes to Feds

(CN) — The D.C. Circuit barred Alabama, Georgia and Kansas from adding a proof-of-citizenship requirement to their a federal voter registration form, holding that it is up to the Federal Elections Commissions, not the states, to determine whether such a change is necessary.

The Sept. 26 opinion follows a two-page Sept. 9 order in which the court granted an injunction against the requirement pending further review.

Both rulings found the three-judge panel split 2-1.

The majority found there was "precious little" evidence of voter fraud by noncitizens, the problem the states said the measure is intended to fight.

It their latest opinion, U.S. Circuit Judges Judith Rogers and Stephen Williams said the public interest "favors a preliminary injunction because, absent an injunction, there is a substantial risk that citizens will be disenfranchised in the present federal election cycle."

The case was brought by the League of Women Voters — along with Project Vote, the NAACP of Georgia and two Kansas residents — in response to a decision by U.S. Election Assistance Commission Executive Director Brian Newby to allow the states to modify the federal voter registration form.

The addition of the proof-of-citizenship language had been requested by Kansas, Georgia and Alabama to reflect their respective state laws.

The court's earlier order on Sept. 9 "enjoined the Commission and anyone acting on its behalf from giving effect to the Newby Decisions."

It also directed the commission to "restore the status quo" pending further litigation.

Last week, the majority explained it believes the changes to the form would "make it substantially more difficult for groups like the Leagues to register otherwise qualified voters."

On the other hand, it found that the state's themselves would suffer little by an injunction, concluding that "the likely harm to election integrity appears minimal."

In the district court ruling denying the injunction, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon found that the plaintiffs were unable to demonstrate irreparable harm.

Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Raymond Randolph

agreed with that notion in his dissent, finding that "the League of Women Voters and their allies have not even come close to demonstrating the type of harm entitling them to an order suspending these state laws."

Randolph also described the stakes in the case as being far greater than simple matters of "civil procedure and administrative law."

"Of utmost importance is that on the eve of a Presidential election, and elections for federal office, a court has issued an injunction forbidding Kansas, Georgia and Alabama from enforcing their election laws," Randolph wrote.

He went on to call the order unconstitutional, saying it violates the states' authority "to determine the eligibility of those who wish to vote in federal elections."

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