Court: Proof of citizenship for voter registration unlawful

April 29, 2020 - 11:45 am

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — A federal appeals court panel ruled Wednesday that a Kansas law requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote is unconstitutional, upholding a judge's injunction that had banned its use.

A 10th Circuit Court of Appeals panel in Salt Lake City found in two consolidated appeals challenging the Kansas statute that the state law violates the Equal Protection Clause and the National Voter Registration Act.

The panel upheld the permanent injunction that U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson had imposed prohibiting enforcement of the requirement.

The legal fight has drawn national attention as Republicans pursue voter ID laws aimed at preventing in-person voter fraud, including by people who are in the country illegally. Many experts say such voter fraud is extremely rare, and critics contend that the Republican-led efforts are actually meant to suppress turnout from groups who tend to back Democrats, including racial minorities and college students.

The law was championed by former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who led President Donald Trump’s now-defunct voter fraud commission and was a leading source for Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally may have voted in the 2016 election.

In reaching their decision, the justices noted the “significant burden quantified by the 31,089 voters who had their registration applications cancelled or suspended” in Kansas. They said the interests of the secretary of state do “not justify the burden imposed on the right to vote.”

The decision is binding in states covered by the 10th Circuit.

Kansas argued in court filings that it has a compelling interest in preventing voter fraud. It contended its proof-of-citizenship requirement is not a significant burden and protects the integrity of elections and the accuracy of voter rolls.

Critics countered that the documentary proof-of-citizenship law was “a disastrous experiment” that damaged the state’s voter rolls, disenfranchised tens of thousands and eroded confidence in the state’s elections.

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