Victory in Proof-of-Citizenship Case

By Michael Slater November 7, 2014

In a major victory for voting rights, today the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned an earlier decision in Kobach v. EAC, and rejected the effort by Arizona and Kansas to add documentary proof-of-citizenship to the federal voter registration.

To help make voting more accessible to millions of Americans, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) created a simple federal voter registration form that all states subject to the NVRA must accept and use. Following the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in “Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc.”, in which the Court found that the NVRA preempts state law, Kansas and Arizona sued The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to add those states’ documentary proof-of-citizenship requirements to the form’s state-specific instructions.

In March 2014, the U.S. District Court ruled that the EAC must fulfill the request from Kansas and Arizona. The EAC and a number of civil rights groups-including Project Vote, the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, and others-filed to appeal. Project Vote was represented in the case by election counsel Michelle Kanter Cohen, and the law firms of Arnold and Porter LLP and the Thompson Law Firm LLC.

Today, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the earlier District Court decision and ruled that Arizona and Kansas cannot require the EAC to add documentary proof of citizenship to the federal form. The Court found that “the NVRA preempts Arizona’s and Kansas’ state laws,” and that therefore “the EAC is not compulsorily mandated to approve state-requested changes to the Federal Form.”

This means that eligible residents can continue to use the federal form to register to vote in those states without facing additional barriers.

We are proud to have joined this important case, and we congratulate all our partners on this victory to ensure that states cannot erect new barriers to registration and voting.