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Kansas, Arizona Laws Requiring Voters Prove Citizenship Upheld

By John Hanna

TOPEKA, Kan. — Federal officials must help Kansas and Arizona enforce laws requiring new voters to document their U.S. citizenship, a federal judge ruled, in a decision that could encourage other Republican-led states to consider similar policies.

U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren in Wichita, Kan., ordered the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to immediately modify a national voter registration form to add special instructions for Arizona and Kansas residents about their states’ proof-of-citizenship requirements.

Both require new voters to provide a birth certificate, passport or other documentation to prove their U.S. citizenship to election officials. The federal registration form requires only that prospective voters sign a statement declaring they are citizens.

Kansas and Arizona asked the federal agency for state-specific modifications, but it refused. The states and their top elected officials — Secretaries of State Kris Kobach of Kansas and Ken Bennett of Arizona, both conservative Republicans — sued the agency last year.

Most voters in both states register with state forms, but their officials said the availability of the federal form created a loophole in enforcement of proof-of-citizenship requirements. Supporters argue the requirements preclude voter fraud by preventing noncitizens from voting, particularly those in the country illegally.

Arizona enacted its proof-of-citizenship requirement by voter initiative in 2004, and Alabama, Georgia and Kansas followed with similar laws. Kansas’ rule took effect last year.

Critics of such laws view them as suppressing voter participation. They also said the federal National Voter Registration Act, enacted in the 1990s, was meant to simplify registration across the country and allowed federal officials to reject a modification of the national form.

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