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Kansas and Arizona win voter proof-of-citizenship ruling

March 23, 2014 at 6:57 PM EDT
A U.S. District judge in Wichita ruled on March 19 that the federal Election Assistance Committee must change federal voter registration forms in order to account for state laws that require new voters to prove U.S. citizenship. USA Today reporter Alan Gomez talks with Hari Sreenivasan about the ruling’s implication for the nation at large.

HARI SREENIVASAN: There was a court ruling earlier this week that could affect voter ID laws across the United States. A federal judge in Wichita ruled that both Kansas and Arizona can indeed ask for more proof of citizenship from voters. For more, we’re joined now by Alan Gomez who covers immigration for USA Today.

So, what was the ruling and why does it matter for the rest of the country?

ALAN GOMEZ: What is means is that if you register to vote in Kansas or Arizona, and you sign up with a federal registration form, that the feds now have to amend their form to require the additional proof of citizenship that those states require.  So this has been a long battle that we’ve been having between the states and the federal government. The states want to require more proof of citizenship. Bring your passport; bring your birth certificate – something like that. The federal government, all they require is that you sign and attest to the fact that you are a citizen – a U.S. citizen. So that’s the problem that we’re having. So Arizona and Kansas are trying to get the federal government to change their voter registration forms to reflect those additional requirements that they have in those states.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And what about other states, are they watching this?

ALAN GOMEZ:  Absolutely. There are two other states, Georgia and Alabama, have passed similar laws so they may jump on to this very quickly. It’s a little late in the legislative session for any other states to pass similar laws this year. But proponents of these kind of bills say that this ruling, if it stands, will open the door for more states to require proof of citizenship when people are signing up to vote.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  But none of this happens in a political vacuum. You have one side saying that this is about voter fraud and making sure we minimize that.   And then the other side saying that this is an opportunity to disenfranchise minority or poor voters that might now have birth certificates. So how does this play out nationally?

ALAN GOMEZ:  Well the simple case to look at Kansas right now. That’s the best example. And in that case you have 15,000 voter registration forms that are being held up as they are checking that additional citizenship documentation that they provided.  On the other hand, critics of these laws are saying it’s only really a handful of cases that have even been shown that somebody has falsified their citizenship. So you’re holding up these 15,000 on account of a very small number of cases that there could be voter fraud. So you extrapolate that out to more states – if more states are passing these laws – and then we start running into a lot of people who could be affected by it.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Is this a state’s rights versus federal rights?

ALAN GOMEZ:  This kind of follows up with what we’ve been seeing for several years now with immigration enforcement.  Arizona stated it off in 2010 passing a bill that allowed state officers to enforce immigration laws a little bit more stringently. That ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court in in that case ruled that the federal government is the one that has ultimate – the ultimate power to enforce immigration laws and that the states have to defer to the federal government. So this is kind of – part of that broader fight. And in this voter registration case for example, there was another ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court last year where the Supreme Court ruled that again it’s the federal government that has authority. So in that case, these states, Arizona in particular, was required to accept federal voter registration forms that did not include the additional proof of citizenship that they are now requiring. And so this is another step in that battle.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  And finally, this is likely to be appealed?

ALAN GOMEZ:  Yes it will.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Alan Gomez from USA Today thanks so much.

ALAN GOMEZ:  Thank you.