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Court Approves Arizona, Kansas Citizenship Proof for Voters

Opponents say law will make it much harder for recently naturalized citizens, poor rural residents and others without birth certificates to vote.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach at a news conference following a federal judge's ruling ordering the federal government to help Kansas and Arizona enforce their proof-of-citizenship requirements for new voters, Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in Topeka, Kansas. Kobach, one of the architects of Arizona's SB1070 law, supports proof of citizenship for voting.John Hanna / AP

A federal judge on Wednesday sided with the states of Arizona and Kansas, ruling that the federal Election Assistance Commission had to help these states enforce laws requiring proof of citizenship to vote.

The states had sued the commission after it deferred requests from both states to help them change their voter registration forms to include new requirements like a birth certificate, passport or other documentation to prove U.S. citizenship.

Critics of the Arizona and Kansas law say there is little evidence of voter fraud, especially of non-citizens trying to vote. A Brennan Center for Justice study found about 7 percent of Americans lack birth certificates, and voter groups worry that it makes it harder for new citizens, poor, older residents born at home and college students from different states to obtain proof in time to vote.

Raquel Teran, Arizona State Director of Mi Familia Vota, said Thursday her organization is exploring further legal options. But for now, she said voter groups will focus on ensuring prospective voters have the documents they need.

"During the 2012 elections, people had to prove citizenship two or three times," said Teran, explaining that for new citizens, DMV records are not always updated on time, causing a long process to ensure the person can register.

Arizona Democratic state senator Steve Gallardo told the Associated Press the Republican-led laws were intended to reduce the number of younger, potentially more progressive voters.

"These are new voters that are getting active...They tend to be a lot more progressive and liberal ... particularly when it comes to issues like medical marijuana, same-sex marriage, more progressive-type issues," he said. National voter groups also weighed in.

“The decision is so broad that it would allow a state to implement almost any restriction on voter registration,” said in a statement Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters.

But in Kansas, Chris Kobach, one of the architects of Arizona's restrictive SB1070 immigration law and of the voter law, told reporters it was a "big, big decision" adding that “Kansas has paved the way for all states to enact proof-of-citizenship requirements.”

Fifteen thousand Kansas residents have had their registrations suspended because they lacked the documentation to prove their citizenship, according to the Kansas City Star.